Their age now

2013-10-29 13.29.26

Having not succeeded at school, I’ve always thought of poetry as the holidays, rather than term-time.

Hugo Williams

I went home the other day. I mean home home, where I was born, and where my parents still live. They are having a clean-out. My father handed me a folder relating to my time at school. It contained reports, reviews of plays in the school magazine, uniform lists. I had remembered none of it.

One of my reports, opened at random, said: ‘Anthony’s chief enjoyment (and success) this term has been on the cricket pitch.’ I had just taken my A Levels.

To be fair to the man who wrote this, he wasn’t being unkind. Cricket was all I cared about. I have the A levels to prove it. I’d like to pretend he was somehow speaking out of his desire to persecute me (a story I was happy to tell myself even years after I had left the place). But that wouldn’t be true.

I flicked through one or two more. Nearly all of them, written by men and women the same age that I am now, are cheerful and well-meaning, doing everything they can to search for the good in my eighteen-year-old self.

Though some of them stung at the time, I now see them as erring on the side of generosity. To a fault. Knowing what I do about teaching and teachers and schools, I’m tempted to say one or two of them might have been written in a bit of a rush, some even with the help of a thesaurus.

But for all their faults, real or falsely remembered, I’d like to say thank you. Nearly all of my teachers were kinder than I knew, and generous with their wisdom and patience. I feel this especially towards my English teachers, whom I still think of as embodying a gold standard of what education is about and can achieve, where open ended discussions and personal interpretations of books and poems and plays were not only tolerated but explicitly encouraged. If words do govern a life as Sylvia Plath says, I can say my training ground was the most benevolent of nurseries. I am certain my life would have turned out very differently had I not encountered them.

I left school thinking my single greatest achievement had been to bowl out out the cricket master in the annual match against the seconds. I now think it is to remember him and his colleagues with gratitude, even though it has taken me thirty-odd years to get there.


  1. I can ditto nearly all of this, especially the enormous debt I owe to an English teacher, who seemed to suspect in me qualities that did not actually emerge till years later.That said, I disliked the institution of school itself so much, that I was permanently a truant from all it stood for, the pettinesses of hierarchy and rank, the discipline, the daily (unutterably boring!) routines of lessons and homework. I much preferred wandering round Oxford street department stores and exploring uncomprehendingly the originality ,(and dangers!) of bohemian 50’s Soho. How I got away with it is still a mystery to me – it may be down to the kindness that teachers of that period could extend unexpectedly to eccentrics and non-conformists like myself. Nowadays, my unwitting parents would probably have had to sign ‘contracts’, or been fined. I might even have been expelled or taken into care. I was sometimes brutally punished by cane-wielding headmasters for cheeking the system , but never for the absenteeism! The rest of my life has followed much the same pattern, but like you, I always found refuge in literature, music, drama and, above all reading and writing poetry. Still do, and have no regrets about a wasted life, unlike James Wright in

    Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
    Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
    Asleep on the black trunk,
    Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
    Down the ravine behind the empty house,
    The cowbells follow one another
    Into the distances of the afternoon.
    To my right,
    In a field of sunlight between two pines,
    The droppings of last year’s horses
    Blaze up into golden stones.
    I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
    A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
    I have wasted my life.

    I was, and remain incorrigible. I, (too fondly perhaps,) like to think that this was my destiny!


    1. Hello Brian
      I know and love this poem. I’m tempted nearly every day to think I have wasted my time, but choose instead to be grateful. I’m glad you feel the same. With best wishes



  2. Anthony, I’ve now read this piece three times (yes, three times!) and I can’t move beyond the part where your father hands you the folder with all ‘your’ stuff in it. I was stunned after my father died at how many folders I found among his belongings that related to us kids individually. I’ve often wondered since why he didn’t give them to us when he was alive. I would always have thought him to be very practical and pragmatic but the loving way in which he had kept some of the things and the very choice of the things themselves was quite amazing.

    Both my sibs are/were English teachers and your post makes me think of them as well.
    I’ll have to come back to this for a fourth reading soon!


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