Last Tuesday, Jude D’Souza announced to the enthusiastic, but numerically sparse Speakeasy faithful that the next session would be the last and that the theme would be Mistakes (a note of unintended irony here?). This will be on Tuesday, 19th. December, kicking off at 8.30 in the Park Tavern with its excellent range of beers, though it ought perhaps to be renamed “The Last Chance Saloon”!
It would be great to send the Speakeasy off with a good turn out, so pop this in your diaries now!
Meanwhile, for this month’s theme of School, I had several old poems ready to air, but decided to revisit my first few tottering steps on education’s tightrope. Here’s what sprang to mind.
Mrs Ranby, Mrs Booth, Mrs Eales, Miss Hughes,
all warmly remembered, all urging us tots on
in the scramble for enlightenment,
up the ladder of education and out of the mines;
less so the formidable headmistress, Miss Rogers,
with her distinctly hairy upper lip and smart red dress.
Only in Junior School did men teachers make an appearance:
the loathsome, sarcastic Mr Crooks
who took an instant dislike to me,
introduced me to the word “conceited”
and, when I was pushed up to the year ahead,
wouldn’t have me back for the trip to Lady Bower dam.
(It was 40 years later before I drove past there,
shuttling step-daughter, Estelle, to and from her studies in Sheffield
and found myself transported back to that early 50s classroom);
the firm, humorous, upright figure of the lovable Mr Lawson,
with his faint whiff of tobacco and twinkling eyes
who, after our two schools merged,
brought a new approach with his gentle discipline
and homework and coached us through the fearsome 11+,
the school’s success rate rocketing, year by year.
(A 0/10 for confusing “its” and “it’s” clarified that distinction
long before I had heard of Lynn Truss).
At first he called me Jeffrey (as only hospital staff now do)
and had a dunce’s cap and a “kennel” for the class clown.
What a furore this would cause in today’s world,
but was considered perfectly acceptable back then;
the rotund, besuited, patriarchal headmaster,
Mr… Mr… Mr Allen. I struggle to recall his surname,
but how clearly I still see the magnificent flourish
of that “Frank S” in his signature on our final year report.
Of course, it’s the humiliations I remember most vividly,
relive most easily: in a poem,
the word “porpoises” I mispronounced
“poor Poysers” (and felt exactly that!);
as I had, after chattering in class once too often,
finding myself hauled before my classmates,
desk contents clasped, “Double or Drop”-like,
tremulously to chest, Miss Rogers’ finger
stabbing the top and bottom rungs
of a vertical ladder chalked on blackboard,
making it abundantly clear where, respectively,
she and I stood and how I was to return
to Mrs Ranby’s infants’ class to begin all over again.
I shed hot, 8-year-old’s tears,
overwhelmed with contrition, then relief,
as the carrot of a second and final chance
to reform was presented.
Two years earlier, impressed by my voracious appetite
for the array of books on the shelves of the class library,
the kindly Mrs. Booth had held me up as a rather different example.
“This boy will go far! Mark my words!”
Many years later, perhaps post-University,
I dropped by to see her
and as good fortune would have it,
found her returned in the role of relief teacher.
At first, to the general amusement of the class,
she mistook me for the man she was replacing,
but some recognition soon dawned
and I was able to express my gratitude
for her encouragement to tread the undulating path
which took me on my journey here tonight.
So far, so good.