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