“Preparatory” School

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.

“Preparatory” School

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.


For Stephen and Ann-Marie

Very occasionally, it’s an interesting challenge to put an artificial constraint on a piece of work, follow your nose and see what happens. Last Thursday’s Macclesfield Creative Writing Group workshop, led by Jacqueline Spry, involved dispensing with the letter “e”, cf. Georges Perec’s novel “A Void”, written in French and, even more astonishingly, translated into English, with ne’er an “e” in sight.

In a much less ambitious vein, I wrote the following birthday tribute to our friends, the Josephs, restricting it to 2 rhymes (one each?).

For Stephen and Ann-Marie

With the ticking of the clock,

the general public generally ages,

but not Ann-Marie and Doc.

For them it’s just the turning of Life’s pages.


They’re as solid as a rock

as they pass through the sequence of its stages.

Nor is either one a crock,

which at least in part our fretful thoughts assuages.


Vital to St. Alban’s flock,

where “elders” is another word for “sages”,

they reflect, when taking stock,

they do their very best to skirt Sin’s wages.


Knights and ladies don’t defrock,

or they’d hear how the congregation rages,

but they’d put themselves in hock,

at last to make their Holy Land pilgrimages.


You will never hear us mock

for our friends in Life Studies are both majors,

but we too hear that tick-tock

and, as poets, scuttle back into our cages.


In Macclesfield Creative Writing Group’s workshop yesterday afternoon, Simon Robinson introduced us to the concept of “Resistentialism”. This neologism turns out to be a bit of a mouthful, which covers the concept of inanimate objects being spiteful to certain members of the human race. (Well, all of us really). Our first task was to come up with a word for the much rarer phenomenon of the benevolently disposed variety. The best I could do was “Objectianthropophilia”, but “Beneficencialism” was another suggestion. Here’s my paranoid take on the resentful version. Bel;ieve me, it’s form the hjeart.

Key Board’s Bored

“Here he comes, Mr Fingers and Thumbs,

plonks himself down in our chair.

He’s no idea, with his technophobe fear,

what he will access and where.”


Computer says, “Just how many ways

are there to have him freak out?

So, old Keyboard, let his efforts be flawed,

till he fills with self-loathing and doubt.”


“He’s scratching his head. (He’ll wish he were dead

the moment he touches my keys).

Now he’s started, 2 ticks and he’s martyred.

We’ll soon have him down on his knees.


Extra lettered, reversed and unfettered,

with errors and typos galore,

he’ll gnash his teeth, loll his tongue underneath,

but tomorrow he’ll be back for more.”