Murder Stone inspires retired teacher to become local history author

imgp6990GEOFF BROOKES spent 41 years working in the education sector. He taught English and drama at a sixth form college (1973-81), was appointed Head of English at  a comprehensive school (1981-91), and then spent 20 years as the deputy head teacher at another comprehensive school up to his retirement from teaching in 2011. He worked part-time as a Curriculum Quality Champion until 2014. He has spent his retirement researching and publishing books about Swansea’s history.

THE beginning: Geoff's first published local history book
THE beginning: Geoff’s first published local history book

Why did you retire when you did?

“I wanted to retire whilst I was still doing the job properly – I didn’t want to hang on too long. I started to think that all the bright new ideas teachers were expected to embrace were just ridiculous. As a manager I had to be positive about the changes but I am afraid I couldn’t. I thought so much of it was pants. I was in danger of not being a manager but a moan-ager.”

You’re not the first retired person I’ve spoken to who has said this. Is it the ideas that are wrong – or is it us?

“It’s largely to do with us. As you get older, you become more resistant to change, and the rate of change seems greater and faster. You’ve made yourself comfortable in what you do, and change seems to be driven by people with less experience than you. But they are building their own careers, and their own image of themselves, just as you did when you were their age.”

How did you prepare for retirement?

“I was able to work part-time for four years. My last year working in school was in fact split 50/50 with working for the local authority in an advisory capacity. When I finished in school, the work for the authority continued until 2014.

“I became aware that the balance was wrong – I needed to work less and write more.

“I handled personnel issues as part of my role; I arranged, talked about and advised about retirement, but I did find it hard when it happened to me. I think that you can prepare for it intellectually but nothing can prepare you for the emotional impact.”

So, did you approach your retirement with anticipation or trepidation?

“Trepidation. It’s a leap into the unknown; the end of the normal structure of your life. I was apprehensive about the idea of not being involved, of becoming just another grumpy old man wandering around shopping centres on wet Tuesday afternoons in February.

“Retirement represents, by its very definition, the end of something – your work – but there is no need to make it the end of your youth or your usefulness. I think it is important that you move on from the idea of an end and turn it into a beginning.

“I have deliberately stayed away from school. I haven’t been back even though it was once so important to me. It belongs to someone else now. For me, the idea of a clean break is important.”

What effect did retiring from full-time employment have on you?

imgp6984
LOCAL History Man: Geoff with some of the books he has written in retirement.

“I enjoyed my job. It wasn’t as if I retired from a job I hated. There are still things I miss – the relationships I had with the people I worked with, and I especially miss the contact with young people. The future belongs to them, and I feel separated from that to some extent. I don’t know what they are thinking.

“But it also set me free to think and write and research things, and see where they lead. We are also free to travel to visit our children and grandchildren.”

How did you adjust or respond to your changed circumstances?

“I made a very important decision. I can’t stop getting old but I was not going to become an old man – one of the most dangerous of all sub-species. Bitter, bored and bewildered by a changing world, imaging simple assertive solutions to a world which is suddenly far too complicated but which has given them money and a vote.

“I was determined to keep my mind agile and to continue to question things to avoid becoming the manipulated victim of predators.”

You described retirement as the end of the normal structure of life. Have you replaced it with a new structure?

“We have routine, of course. We have breakfast in the morning, and open a bottle of wine in the evening; it’s important you don’t mix them up! But while  I still live with routine, now I can also respond to opportunities.”

What new opportunities did retirement create for you?

“Indulgence, I suppose. Suddenly retirement makes you time-rich. I now have a full-time hobby and the space inside my head to pursue it. I like to uncover old stories and bring them back to life – an act of respect in my mind for all those who came before us and lived their lives as best they could, dealing with many of the same issues, especially emotional, that face us, and so many other issues from which we are protected – like grinding poverty, for example, or illness.”

You’ve talked about the need to write; tell me more about this impulse.

“I spent my professional life analysing and criticising the writing of other people. But did I have the right to make comments about them, if I wasn’t writing myself? I felt the need to prove to myself that I could do it.

“I started writing articles for educational supplements, then I was asked to write guides for authors being studied in schools.”

How did your interest in local history begin?

“Somebody told me about the Murder Stone in Cadoxton graveyard. I went to see it, and wanted to find out more. There are at least six of these Murder Stones in Wales. I sent an article to Welsh Country Magazine. I now have a

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MURDER Stones were intended to attract one man – the ‘murderer’ who had escaped detection. They are aimed at the murderer, in the hope that he will be struck by conscience. They also serve as a warning to others.

imagesThe inscription on the Murder Stone at Cadoxton reads: “1823/To Record/ MURDER/This stone was erected/over the body/of/MARGARET WILLIAMS/aged 26/A native of Carmarthenshire/Living in service in this Parish/Who was found dead/With marks of violence on her person/In a ditch on the marsh/Below the Churchyard/On the morning/Of Sunday the Fourteenth of July/1822/Although/THE SAVAGE MURDERER/escaped for a season the detection of/man/Yet/God hath set his mark upon him/Either for time or eternity/and/THE CRY OF BLOOD/Will assuredly pursue him/To certain and terrible but righteous/JUDGMENT”

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series in the magazine; I write about different graves in Wales, and the stories behind them.

“These articles were put together into a book. That was my first local history book.

“Writing is a hobby, not a profession. There are other things in my life that are more important. I do what I do because I enjoy it, and I will stop when I don’t enjoy it any more.”

How do you feel now about retirement?

“I think retirement is a gift. So many other people across the world – and certainly our ancestors – do not have the opportunities and possibilities it presents to us.

“When you go to work you sell your freedom for money. And then when you retire they give you money to be free. Not a bad arrangement.”

Visit http://www.geoffbrookes.co.uk for more information on all his books.

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