What would Mr Fox have said about my title having no full stop? I’d have just sat there dumbfounded. I could not answer. I didn’t have the courage of my convictions. But I was only nine. If he asked me now I’d say: “It has no full stop because I want the reader to read on. There is something too final about a full stop.”
It’s just as well I remained silent. That sort of reply would have seen the old bugger bending my ear and showering me with admonishment.
But I liked Mr Fox. He could play the piano. In assembly he would belt out the hymns. Mrs Beard on the other hand was more lyrical and mezzo forte. The children were less confident about singing up when she played. This is why I’ve always belted out the daily hymn; every school day for twenty two years.
My own hymn practices were legendary. I’d play the music and stare round at the pupils at the same time. I would prowl the hall with piercing beady eyes and strike a subito barbed remark to any potential deviant. If the music suddenly stopped some children would visibly wither. They were usually the guilty ones. It was great fun but I don’t miss it.
Now I think back to my old teachers. Formosa Drive Infants, Fazakerley. Reception class: Miss Colcott. I called her Miss Clip clop. She shouted a lot. Year one, Miss Body. She was possibly the most generously kind forgiving teacher I have ever had. She gave us sweets for no reason. She loved children. On a child’s birthday she would present her little inverted gold covered shoe box with six candles. She’d light them and we sang happy birthday. After moving the box she’d reveal a Mars Bar on her desk. We thought it was magic.
Year two: Miss Smith and Miss Helliwell. We moved house and I changed schools so I didn’t really build a rapport with either of them.
We’d gone across the water to Wallasey. I started at Egerton Grove. The infant head of my new school, Miss Skinner had to decide whether to put me in the A or B class. When I told her I was on Wide Range Reader Blue Book two she didn’t believe me. How could a little scally like me, with an accent as thick as butter from a sprawling council estate be so advanced? I remember her little stamping feet resonating on the polished floor as she marched off to a classroom and returned with the very book. It was a story about an oasis. I told her the word said oasis. I even explained what an oasis was. I went into the A class. She never liked me.
Year 3 Miss Kirkbride. She was crabby. Year two, Miss Seymour. My current cat is called Seymour. Miss Seymour was exasperated by my lack of concern for appearance. But she gave me the love of books and the love of writing. She also persuaded me to start learning the cello. Thank-you Miss Seymour.
Year five was Mr Fox. Yes, I liked Mr Fox even though he was short tempered “Are you as thick as two short planks?” he would bark. But Mr Fox pushed us. He pushed us because we had eleven plus on the horizon.
In year six, Mrs Guest was a welcome relief. Because Mr Fox had driven us she was able to relax. And so were we.
After Liscard Primary School it was Wallasey Grammar School. New teachers. We were on our own most of the time.
“You will do this, do that and get a detention if you don’t.”
Is this what we worked for? Is this what we had after the warmth and encouragement of primary school?
These teachers saw little good in me. I was from Seacombe and I was scruffy. It was nothing to do with my lovely mum. She sent me out every day immaculately tidy and clean. But by the end of the twenty minute bus journey, I looked a little lived in.
The school was in Leasowe. There was mud everywhere. It was a cold environment. The education bandwagon was charging forward and I was expected to keep up.
Two teachers stand out. And they were not exactly nice to me. Mr Lochner taught me maths for the first three years. He expected me to listen but I was a bit of a day dreamer. He’d whack me across the head. I don’t agree with his method but I learned to listen. And he opened up a whole new world. I thrived. My mum was amazed and proud. She loved her statistics and calculations.
Then we had a geography teacher called Mr Gordon. His nickname was Mooney. He knew where I came from. He knew I loved music, even though I came from Seacombe and was the son of a car sprayer.
We found mutual interests. And to this day I thank Mooney for showing me the mountains of Wales. He was an avid hill walker and he organised a coach load of students to go walking once a month. He didn’t have to do that. He could have gone with some mates. But no. He loved it so much he wanted to pass it on.
I’ve done Snowdon twenty two times and many other mountains since.
Then some teachers stood out for the wrong reasons. After three years of progress in maths, I was placed in the top stream. And there the progress stopped. We had Mr Cartwright. We called him Ben from a character in Bonanza. (A much watched western series.) Then as he would often go red with anger we alliterated it to Beetroot Ben. I did gain my maths o level but it was no thanks to him. In year nine, lower fifth form, our English teacher was called Mr Thomason. I can say with no doubt that he was totally unfit to be in the profession. He had a hard sneering attitude to all the pupils in our form. He made it quite clear that he thought us stupid and undeserving of a place in the elite academic stream. We were the last year to do 11 plus and had converted to a comprehensive school. There was another teacher who should never have bothered. He was called Mr Evans.
“Thyat app will you,” he would repeatedly bark. Like Thomason. he only lasted a year. The thing is 1970 was an election year and he was the Liberal party candidate. He received something like 5,284 votes and lost his deposit. So every time he asked a question in the classroom, someone would answer 5,284. Our French teacher, Mr Sharman had sudden eruptions of spittle firing blue faced temper. But he was most noted for one morning, during a rare moment of silence, he turned green (not blue). This was followed by an earnest protracted plea for the whole class to desist from what young men do best in their tribal environments. Yes, he was imploring us to stop farting. It fell on deaf ears and loud bottoms. It was our right to assail any teacher’s olfactory senses with the good old school boy boff. Farting still makes me laugh.
When doing my teaching practice at Guisely school, change over time saw the corridors teeming with the student masses. It amused me greatly to emit the sweet notes from a few pints of Yorkshire ale completely anonymously and listen to the aftermath.
Then there was University College Chester or Chester College as it was known when I was there. I can’t really say much about the tutors there. I did the common first year of BEd and BA. As far as the education department goes there was little to shout about. There was no support. I found going into a school quite daunting. I found the two placement schools cold, elitist and patronising. I needed some encouragement and help.
When it was clear I was up against it why didn’t my so called personal tutor become involved? Did the education department bother to speak to her? I doubt it. Then there was the art department. I loved art but again, I needed teaching; teaching with understanding.
It was slightly better than the education department though. Dear Joyce Emmerson with her turkey’s dewlap gave me some help. But she lived on the campus and was totally immersed in her own world; and a regular dose of sweet sherry. She was very flaky.
At Chester the music department gave me most help. The tutors were personable if a little eccentric. At least they made our sessions enjoyable. For me, a greater knowledge and understanding music opens up that elusive fourth dimension of understanding some of us crave.
There are two other teachers of note. I think that’s an understatement. For years I’d battled with learning the cello. By November 1982 I’d finally passed my grade eight. Then I spent two years under the tutelage of Alan Johnson a cellist from the Liverpool Phil. At last, someone who understood technique and how to teach it.
We had many common interests, the most notable being a love of A60s. Those two and a bit years gave me a real boost in terms of my own cello playing and teaching. It was beginning to feel natural.
The other musicians around me began to give compliments about my overall comfort with the instrument.
On the piano there was Eva. One day in May I turned up at her house. It was an old battered sort of place. In the middle of a massive disorganised room with Buster and Pedro, two cats who answered to no-one, was a beautiful Steinway and an equally beautiful pupil playing a Beethoven sonata. From the first instant, it was clear I was in the presence of a genius.
Eva was kind yet not kind. She knew what motivated me and she had the perfect carrot. All I had to do was turn up and witness her highly intellectual world. Because of Eva I have belief in my musical standing.
Between Eva and Alan, I have achieved a level of musical insight which has been life changing. Of course there have been other influences but on a pedagogic level Eva and Alan rule supreme.
It is truly tragic to reveal that both these titans of local music are no longer with us. I’m really struggling with the recent death of Alan; especially as we’d met up again last September and felt the warmth of a renewed friendship. The world is a cruel place. I see and read of suffering and tragedy. My heart bleeds in so many ways. But now it’s bleeding for my two special teachers.
Thank you for reading.