I wasn’t always lazy. As I have written before, I think it became a safety valve for me around the age of twelve, when I realised that I couldn’t keep up with the scholarship kids whose class I found myself in. And the word lazy doesn’t really cover it. The pace was furious, unrelenting. Three homeworks a night, punishment if you were late. But somewhere inside I think I began to disappear a bit, knowing I could never keep up or understand everything that everyone else seemed to pick up without trying. Especially the maths.
The one place I felt safe was English, taught by a man called Alan Booth. His lessons were electric. For the first time a teacher actually asked us to talk. He wanted to hear what we had to say. To do that, I now know, he must have believed that we had things to say. This was revolutionary. He read us short stories, and had us taking different parts of the plays we read out loud in the classroom. It wasn’t long before he got us writing. The feedback from our homework were events in themselves, where he would read out chunks of our work that interested, pleased or puzzled him. ‘God, that was good,’ he might say to one boy. ‘God, that was terrible,’ he would say to another.
The teachers who came after him, who showed us Ted Hughes and Orwell and Lawrence, were sowing in fertile ground. I do think without him I would not be here today, I mean here, writing this, thinking about words and teaching, and the impact that both can have across a life.