Wednesday, 11 April 2012

In memory of a gentleman

My old art teacher died last week.

He was kind, intelligent, sensitive and a real inspiration. And I am so glad that, three years ago, I decided to write to him to tell him so.

So, in memory of a lovely man, I am reprinting part of the blog I wrote at the time. God bless you, sir.

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 1,200. 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 for me.

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


  1. Hi Maddie,
    Sorry to hear about your teacher but like you say, it's good that you did at least contact him and let him know how he inpsired you. Like you, I went to a large comp school. Funnily enough, in the last few months I have started corresponding with my old maths teacher - someone who inspired me greatly and pushed me towards the career I now have (that of sitting around complaining). It turns out I am one of many of my old classmates writing to him. What amazed me is he is still driving the yellow Mk.III Cortina estate he drove in the mid 70s. He asked me if I remembered throwing a flour bomb at it at the end of one term. I conveniently couldn't remember. I am glad I am back in touch with him.
    I remembered this post of yours from a few years back. You are a great writer.

  2. He sounds like a lovely person and I'm glad you took the opportunity to tell him what he meant to you. That sort of validation means the world to most of us. I'm sorry for the loss.

  3. A lovely tribute. Aren't you glad you decided to write and tell him of his influence on your life?


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