Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Don't just talk about it, do it

As I write this, Nobby Odd-Job, Mrs Bancroft and Mr Grigg are sitting around my table. I nearly typed Mr Frigg there. Freudian slip, sorry...

We have just had a meeting about our annual fete in June. I'm part of a small group that has been behind the fete every year since the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002. We had a street party then and everyone had so much fun we've been doing something ever since. We have events during the year to pay for the fete and then any profits are split between village causes. This may all seem very noble but the best bit is meeting in other people's homes, sharing good food and wine as we plan our activities.

But I am not blogging about village stuff. Not tonight. No, I am in a kind of serious mode this evening. Have you had a teacher who has really inspired you? I'm sure we've all had someone in our school lives who has made a real difference to how we turned out. Me, I went to the school of hard knocks in the town otherwise known as the Birthplace of Powered Fight. It was not until the sixth form that my teachers took any interest in me. I am from the great Comprehensive-experiment era, the youngest of five whose siblings all went to grammar school. I passed the 11-plus in the early 1970s. But I declared to my parents I would run away if I was sent to the grammar school or boarding school threatened by my mother. I wanted to be at the same school as my classmates.

So I spent five miserable years in a school where I was average because I didn't want to come across as a keenie. If I'd been rubbish I would have had special attention but I would have been bullied mercilessly. If I'd been exceptional I would have had special attention but would have been bullied mercilessly. So I played the average card, desperate to fit in after jumping from a country primary school of 19 to a town secondary school of 1,900. I was bullied, mercilessly.

School life only ever became enjoyable for me in the sixth form. During those two years, I had two inspirational teachers, my English teacher and my art teacher. But, according to one of my old school friends, my English teacher only spent time on me because he fancied me. I would dispute that. However, I do recall his rather poignant presentation of a dogeared copy of The Great Gatsby on the day I left. My art teacher, however, is the one who sticks in my mind. I wasn't particularly good at art but I was passionate about art history. And I could write about it.

I well remember going on an art trip to The Smoke. My fellow students missed the train and I ended up going around The National Gallery on my own with my art teacher. It was one of the best days of my school life. I had a one-to-one tour of the paintings, courtesy of my art teacher who could have been Tony Hart's more pedantic brother. A gentleman, an enthusiast and an inspiration.

Tony Hart: not my teacher, but an inspiration, even though he didn't return my painting from Vision On

So when I was talking to my old friend about inspirational teachers, I told him I had always meant to write to my art teacher. To tell him what a difference he had made to my life. How I could never pass a church or a cathedral without dragging poor Mr Grigg and the family inside to marvel at the ecclesiastical architecture. So what did my friend do? He found my old teacher's address.

So I wrote to the teacher. Two days later, a beautifully written envelope, in copperplate, italic, fountain pen handwriting, dropped through my letterbox. Now in his 80s, my old teacher was thrilled to receive my 'very flattering comments' and intrigued to hear about how my career had progressed. He well remembered our trip to the National Gallery. 'That is how visits to galleries should be,' he said. He was keen to know more about a book I had published and wished me well for the future. I almost cried when I read it. I bundled up one of my books and sent it off to him, with the appropriate fine arts card and a personal message.

I have just received another letter, with a £10 note attached, thanking me profusely for the book. I have sent back another card, a detail of a Charles Rennie Mackintosh painting, along with the £10 note. I had sent the book as a gift. I had been thinking of writing a dedication inside but thought that would be pretentious.

The moral of this blog posting, though, is: don't just talk about it, do it. I have long been meaning to write to this lovely man, this Tony Hart of my schooldays, but I have never done it. But now I have. And I'm so glad I did.

So if you have the chance to write and say 'thank you', just do it. Now.

That's about it
love Maddie x

PS Lowering the tone slightly, as is my wont, just before our meeting at our house this evening, Mr Grigg came home, had a dump and then none of us could use the lavatory for the next three hours. Because the extractor fan is broken and he hasn't fixed it yet.

On the horizon this week is a village outing to see The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain and the long-awaited showing of Morris: a Life with Bells on.


  1. Very good advice Maddie; coincidentally I was trying to find Dr Moon a few months ago but Google reveals nothing and I heard he was in a residential home somewhere, so am still trying to find him. He was my teacher for A level religious studies and very enthusiastic.

  2. I hear all the time of people who had inspirational teachers and think how lucky they were. I went to a small private convent, one of a handful of non-Catholics whose fees were necessary to pay the bills and who were there to be either tolerated or converted. Since I have never been open to conversion, they left me alone really, apart from when I was in kindergarten and got rapped across the knuckles with the back of a wooden blackboard duster for confusing the x and + signs! I deliberately failed the 11 plus because I didn't want to go to grammer school, and when the convent had to close it's doors and I was 15, rather than go to the secondary school to continue my education, along with most of my peers, I opted to leave and join the world of commerce, armed only with enthusiasm and several minor qualifications in shorthand and typing... 120wpm in the former and not sure about the latter.
    But I am an advocate of not just sitting and thinking about doing something, but actually getting off your butt and doing it... life is too short to have regrets about not doing, not trying something.

  3. I would think my most inspirational teacher is sitting somewhere in a alcohol induced fug...

  4. It's funny - but lately I have been thinking of my old maths teacher and how he put me on the career path I now have. I really would like to find him again.

    But as for Mr Grigg? Well really Maddie, if a man can't render a bathroom unusable in his own home, then what's the world coming to? I'm on Mr Grigg's side with this one.

  5. You're right, Maddie - we should all be letting people know we appreciate them for whatever they've done, if it's made a difference to our lives.
    I think my teachers might all be long gone to the great staff lounge in the sky!

  6. Lovely Feel-Good story.

    I hope Mr Frigg -I mean Grigg - fixes the extractor very soon.

  7. Almost finished with tears in my eyes - how wonderful that you have been able to write to him before it was too late. - and then ended with a laugh - your husb deposits sounds/smells like my husbs!

    Lovely post Maddie


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