Once again it has been a while since I last posted here. Two months, in fact. I haven’t been confident there was much to write about – which is, of course, one of the times you really should knuckle down and write… It’s also nonsense, as so many things go on in our micro-universe that there are areas I could wade into and wax about pretty much each day.
The fact that our son is teething, for example. Or that he seems to now be fascinated by classical music more than any other kind – although he does giggle when I rap to a hip-hop beat. As I rap I also wave my hand in front of his face in an exaggerated gesture, in time with the beat. I do it to keep him distracted while his bottle is being made up in the kitchen:
“Here’s a hand
And it’s waving at ya
It’s waving at ya
While ya waiting for ya food” …
I was also very proud to come up with:
“Lying in my bed
Be counting sheep
Had all my milk
Now I oughta sleep…
Mum and Dad can rest
– Though I might spoil it
When I use my pyjamas
Like a toilet” …
As a family we’re currently engrossed in The Hundred on Sky each evening (my wife has developed an excited interest in this brand new fast-format cricket tournament and has sanctioned a one-month subscription to the TV broadcaster so that we can see all of it – and I realise once again just how absolutely blessed I am). I could have written about that, too, I suppose. Or how the young men making up the England football team inspired us during the Euros, on and off the field.
Or that I have painted one of our boy’s bedroom walls black and covered it in a ‘glow in the dark’ moon and many stars, to encourage him to work towards my goal of becoming an astronaut.
Just stuff upon stuff. Anyway…
I did write something which was briefly published between now and two months back – but quite quickly I withdrew it in protest against myself, on the grounds of being totally and utterly bored of myself. I may yet tweak it and reinstate it, as I do think it made some valid points about charity.
It was a piece which also described an unscrupulous former employer / acquaintance. So it was about narcissism and PTSD too, I suppose. The sound of grinding axes – though in a way still sometimes music to my ears – became too much, and that’s why it was withdrawn.
[Edit: I did decide to reinstate it, here – but only after a cleansing rewrite.]
We went for a picnic last Saturday with a friend who has two sons. In a beautiful park I ignored my hernia and played football with them while she and my wife sat on a large blue blanket and ate supermarket sandwiches and chatted baby chat. Her boys are aged six and four and they are, my friend says, “tearaways”.
I remember this description from childhood – particularly the time it was applied to a lad from my class at junior school who, it was said, had stolen a bus and driven it into the depot wall.
I myself was never described as a tearaway.
I do, though, remember a teacher at my comprehensive school (an amused and decent enough Geography-type with leather patches on his tweed elbows who I suspect, looking back, liked no more than a pint and a fag, Leslie Thomas novels, birds with nice tits, his greenhouse and watching the rugger) telling my Mum that I was “a rogue”.
I have never once thought that he meant I was some sort of rakish deviant with a list of dark deeds to work through or that I was approaching juvenile delinquency. I wasn’t – though I did laugh loudly at the pin-up French teacher when she had a ridiculous perm and I did also once break a window with a snowball. It was more, he meant, that I “marched to the beat of my own drummer” and was sometimes difficult, if not occasionally impossible, to police.
I was not mild nor particularly compliant. And I was also quite difficult to get any real sort of handle on, I think. Part of me just didn’t give a toss but a bigger part of me desperately wanted to be good and dull and compliant. To please. To not be policed. To fly under the radar.
To disappear from view.
Doing the right thing was always pretty big, for me. I think back to infants school and a boy mercilessly teasing a girl and then pinching her arms and legs. I was aware of what was going on and sat at my tiny desk, increasingly frustrated – and eventually I had enough. I got up and walked over to them and thumped him a couple of times, as hard as I could. I got into very big trouble – sent to the headmistress and admonished for taking the law into my own hands. But I do also think the class teacher let me have at him for a little longer than she might…
I couldn’t really seem to get things right, no matter how I tried or what my motivation was. Nor could I maintain that path when I was briefly on it. A combination of clumsiness, awkwardness, boredom, a sense of humour and an occasionally big mouth, and a feeling that school was a sausage-machine where the kids were the least important thing, meant that from time to time I landed myself in varying degrees of “bother” (as my dear old Nan would have called it).
I didn’t mean to. I still don’t.
They say you “never forget a good teacher”. There was just the one who “got me”, I think. He was a splendid and gentle man. A man who ‘saw something’ and encouraged and advised and guided with true compassion. A man who championed and protected. A man who never wavered and never gave up and never seemed to deem any “bother” as too serious – because he never forgot I was still merely a child.
We first met in 1981, and he became my Form Tutor in 1983. We kept in touch after I’d left school in 1985. We remained good friends for a further twenty-three years, up to his untimely death in 2008 at the age of 64. He and his wife were wonderful and constant for me as I grew into adulthood. We’d speak on the phone, we’d write. I’d occasionally go for a meal or a pint with him, or them. Or I’d go back to my old school to visit him. He’d sometimes ask me to talk to his current form group about writing or about music. What a privilege.
To my surprise, he left full-time teaching. For him it became just a bit too stiff “like in that bloody Pink Floyd video”. Perhaps it always was – and perhaps it’s the teachers who change over time, too tired and beaten down to fight when the realisation dawns?
He became a priest and then a prison Chaplain – and counselled wherever else he went, too. He still wanted to make a difference to the world around him, and he described prison Chaplaincy as the closest thing he could get to “actual social work”. To supporting the difficult lives of difficult adults, and opening up new perspectives for them. “It’s NEVER about God. It’s about listening… and opening the curtains a bit” he’d say.
He definitely believed in the power of good – but I was never quite sure whether he actually believed in God, to be honest. Nonetheless he worked hard to become a Deacon, and I was very proud to be at his Ordination in Nottingham Cathedral in the January of 2001. One Saturday afternoon at a Mass that seemed to last longer than my entire education, I basked humbly in the glow of reflected goodness even though the chairs were awful and my arse was numb. Perhaps the incense stoned me?
He and his wife came to the church blessing and the reception when I got married for the first time, in December 2004. I remember the vicar’s confused face outside the church when my friend turned up with his collar on. My friend said to him “Just come to check you’re doing it right”. The pair of them laughed that gentle Man Of Religion laugh, and even toyed with the idea of sharing the service out between them. I wouldn’t have minded!
That day was actually the last time I saw him. We spoke on the phone on several more occasions, trying to arrange a get-together in the midst of increasingly busy lives. But meet-ups were always postponed, cancelled. We finally did make a cast-iron arrangement, and were both looking forward to a full day of proper catching-up.
So long overdue.
The day before we were to meet, his wife rang me at work to tell me he had died of a heart attack.
He was a good friend and a great teacher – at school and beyond.
We all need at least one of those.