Now here’s a funny thing to admit but as a youngster what made me feel the happiest and I confess, the proudest kid in the street, was if some respected adult asked me to help them with a proper grown up job; I mean a real job like planting lettuces, or perhaps mending a puncture in their old work bike. I admit that it is a peculiar thing to say, but what it really meant was that they trusted me to do the job properly, something that parents didn’t always find possible to do.
These are the sort of things that stick in a child’s mind and perhaps why we so often look back at our school days and remember some particular teacher with affection. With some people it’s the first boss they worked for after leaving school, clearly remembering the first simple tasks they were trusted with. I still remember fondly a particular teacher, Frank Richards, from my days at the secondary modern school in Kempston, an art teacher who taught many other subjects, as most teachers did. His classroom was always referred to as the art room, possibly because it contained a large sink where we could wash our brushes and palettes.
Then there was the first shop manager who guided me through that mind boggling transition between being a boy at school and the world of paid employment; particularly learning how to deal with the real world which I soon discovered is made up of many diverse characters who depend on your knowledge and whose respect must quickly be gained.
In my case this was also helped by the attitude shown by the teacher I mentioned earlier, who spoke in a language I understood and trusted in my ability carry out such momentous tasks as painting back-drops for school plays as well as encouraging me to become involved in amateur dramatics without questioning my imagination or skill. These were probably not the most demanding tasks I agree but it demonstrated a trust in me that, even after sixty years, I have not forgotten.
I now find it very comforting that after years of filling my days with the necessary essentials of earning a living, I have at last retired and moved back to my home town, only to recently discover, I’m very pleased to say, that my old teacher had the very same political views that I hold and was, I understand, once an active Party worker in my present ward. I also remember from my youth that he wrote and directed plays, an ‘Over Mighty Subject’ I believe one of them was called and he was a respected member of the long established local amateur dramatic society.
My one regret is that I never had the opportunity to meet him again and only have his reminiscences to read; reminiscences of the town he was born in and lived in for most of his life. To me, however, the most important memory is of the encouragement he gave me and the trust he placed in me as a boy some sixty or so years ago.
Finally, for those of us who were ‘lucky’ enough to go to a secondary modern school in the nineteen fifties and may just have some enduring memory of one particular teacher, I once scribbled down a few short stories about those days at school which I called “The Secondary Years”. One of these little tales, entitled “A Piece of Plywood” may just jog a few memories as it portrays a teacher I called Frank Ryman, who is very much like the old art teacher who inspired me so much all those years ago. Of course I didn’t always live up to his expectations!
A PIECE OF PLYWOOD
The old red brick walls of the school felt warm, while the tall windows set in frames of brown and cream flared in the bright afternoon sun high above the tarmac playground. Around the corner of the building, worn smooth by a million fingers, stood a wooden cloakroom connected to the main block by an arched canopy.
Frank Ryman, the art teacher, stood by the entrance with his hands in his pockets glaring expectantly through his huge horn rimmed glasses. He always seemed untidy and chalky and never stopped pushing his specs back up his nose.
“Benson! Use your ruddy eyes lad!” he shouted as I collided with the dusty trouser legs. “Slow down boy!”
Restricted from further movement by a firm grip on my left ear I was instructed to go to the woodwork room and ask Mister Sutherland, Inky that is, for a piece of plywood.
“Tell him, about the size of an exercise book. An off cut will do. Oh yes,” he went on, releasing his vice like grip, “and try not to disable too many people on the way.”
Not a bad bloke old Ryman, dead sarcastic but always good for a laugh. He often appeared to be grinning when he was ranting at you.
I walked fairly slowly past the new block. No need to rush I decided, after all I was on ‘Ryman business’……. Read more