Sunday, 3 November 2013

everyone's a star

Have you seen the stars tonight?
Would you like to go up on A-deck and look at them with me?
Have you seen the stars tonight?
Would you like to go up for a stroll and keep me company?

We stood in a flapping tent built to house wine, food and an urn or two bubbling away to heat red wine. We huddled together to drive the cold Autumn away - the first real cold evening of this wonderful time of year. The fire about a hundred yards away roared and crackled and spat. I feared for our friends' house as the wind whipped up the cinders and flung them across as though a bully testing the resolve of a regular victim. 

No major problems, the threat of a fire died down. The fire itself died down. The awe of seeing a spectacular firework display died down. Speaking as someone who is not that impressed with the cordite-smell and spectacle of money going up in smoke, it was an impressive show. I turned to Mrs Dave and her friend and remarked that it wasn't like a traditional Firework display. Why? Because it wasn't raining. They smiled - another wasted breath.

I had a can or two of beer and tried to keep the circulation going in my extremities. Eventually, thankfully, we were moved indoors. A chance to warm up by their huge wood burner - at least three times the size of the poor excuse for one such in our tiny back room.  We moved about and shuffled from one acquaintance to another to catch up with the last few years. A lovely guy I'd met a few years ago on a skiing trip was there, he's a dentist and not having a great time of it under the current regime. Not a Tory, to be sure. However, as I'd recently been having a spat on Twitter with a local MP (Mr Privilege: possibly publicly force-fed BSE burgers by his father) the subject came up. He was quite gracious for someone who is being hung, drawn and quartered under that current regime. Okay, we're all human and we are all influenced by our parents - I'm talking politically here*. His wife has been forced to give up teaching due to the difference between what passes for education and what's in her heart. So, nobody seems to be doing well under this current regime. I'll use the term "regime" where plenty of public servants are using terms like "shit shower" on the various social networking sites as I don't like to use foul language on this blog. Anyway, my little contretemps with the local MP was probably of no significance to anyone but it did seem to ruffle a few feathers along the way. Perhaps he has had an Icarus moment here - flying quite close to the flame. There will be plenty of far more angry dealings for him to come.  Maybe the current Secretary of State for Education is the epitome of Bright Phoebus himself. But throughout the land there are teachers being burnt to the glory of the DfE in giant mortar-boarded structures made from old National Curriculum documents in the hope of driving up standards. Even without qualified "teachers" (an unqualified teacher is an instructor - what's an unqualified doctor, brain surgeon, pilot et al?). Still it's good to know that the future of education is safe in their hands . . . oh, it's not is it

I have been a teacher - sorry, for the sake of Gove and his acolytes, I'll rephrase that - I've been a Qualified Teacher - for over twenty years now. In that time I've seen plenty of bright kids (I haven't taught many as I've always been given second and third sets) pass through the gates of the schools I've taught in. Very few of those could give a flying one about Shakespeare, Keats or Dickens** - even less about excellent articles in our "Quality Press" - but somehow, they get through. However, when Mr Ofsted comes knocking - or for that matter, a member of SLT - we are judged on whether or not that child is showing interest. I remember once when a student came in to class whilst I was being observed and the only thing he cared about in his life was his moped. He had crashed it the night before. I didn't know how he "celebrated" that loss but I have a good idea. He came in to the classroom that morning looking awful and sunk his head in his hands and refused to give a toss about Shakespeare. I mean, how unreasonable. He should have left all his angst at the classroom door and fully engaged with The Tempest, for Chrissakes . . . and certainly not showed me up. Because, of course, when students come in to school with their own problems and issues, that's the teacher's fault. How uncivilized can you get? He was Caliban to my Prospero, of course.

A few years later, the same student, now a lad of some twenty summers, apologised deeply and with a heavy heart when he crashed an English Teachers' post-term meeting in a local hostelry. He bemoaned his own school behaviour and work ethos. All too late, for him and me. He had another chance (albeit with regrets) but I had to put up with the ignominy of being seen as a failure by the person who is now - a few years on - the Head of the school. Oops! I meant "Academy". At least I was able to offer some words of wisdom. You can guess the rest . . . 

In the meantime, I have recently been back in contact with one of my old teachers. Yep, that's a gob-smacking thing, isn't it? There were a few good guys there at my Alma Mater. It's great to actually "talk" (write) with someone who only knew me as a 14 year old oik but somehow through all of that still remembers me. I'll remember many of the youths that pass through my auspices. I was absolutely useless (laughably so) at Languages but he became my form tutor. And somehow, he believed in me. Me. I was out of my depth and such an airhead that I still, to this day, have no idea what the hell I was doing at that school. But here was a guy - not long out of school himself. He'd been at Uni with members of famous Jazz-Rock bands and became a great Careers Teacher. I'm sure I told him I wanted to be a shepherd or something. When he was my form tutor he leant me a copy of Titus Groan because it was the name of a band and I thought I would be a great intellect if I read it.  I never finished it (by god, I tried) and gave it back avoiding any conversation about it, too embarrassed. By the time I'd been ignominiously asked not to come back to the school (C'mon, how many of you had a personal FO from your Head Teacher?) it was a forgotten moment in the past. Yet I was troubled about that moment.

A few years later I was working at Knebworth Park. Much of what I had to do was meaningless. And boring. Somehow, I managed to struggle through Titus Groan and ultimately the rest of the Gormenghast Trilogy. I could also not only pronounce that but knew what it meant. A couple of years later I even managed to work through a redundancy by reading Daniel Martin by John Fowles in the loo at some rather long "toilet breaks"***. Serendipity, but the factory closing down - and later the thieves Insurance Company I worked for - worked out so well. I was able, finally, to go to a reasonable University even though I was in my late thirties.

Oh well, I won't go on about all of that, but, really, we all have shooting stars pass before us. We don't always realise that, of course.  What's the Wilde quote about we're all in the gutter but some of us are looking up at the stars? 

I see kids pass through my classes and I just wonder how I don't really seem to get all that experience I've gained across. I was walking through Debenhams about ten years ago and a lovely young lady bounded across to me and told me that I was Mr Leeke. I couldn't disagree. She was a manager at the store. "I can't ever have water running whilst I clean my teeth because of what you said!" 

"Er, why?"

"Because you told us about how much water we'd save if we didn't run it, I've never forgotten that." Oh dear, be careful what you say. Hopefully she turns the tv and computer off at night too.

I now have two colleagues at the school (Doh! Academy) I teach at that I taught Film Studies to. They both regularly mention things that I told them. And that, too, was years ago. Somewhere, along the way, something I said or did got through. Just like with my former French/Form teacher all those years ago. None of these are high flyers, bright stars. But they have gone off on their own course and been reasonably successful. Just like me. 

There must always be the hope of having made some sort of impact.

We miss those shooting stars. The fireworks were brilliant tonight, sparking out all over the sky. I noticed a few that nobody else seemed to. They were all looking at the obvious ones shooting off above us. Occasionally there were a few that quietly flew off at a tangent and presented their spectacle a long way off over to the left.  I wonder how many shooting stars have been missed over the last century because we were too busy looking at the pretty lights?

The stars out in the night-time country sky were also beautiful tonight, much as they were over Lyme Regis earlier this week. Later this week fireworks will cover your skies for the evening and maybe, too, you live in an area where there is so much light pollution that you'll wish yourself elsewhere. Just for an opportunity to look at the stars for short while. Just look sideways for a moment and maybe you'll catch sight of something wonderful that others may miss.

You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard
Some that you recognize, some that you've hardly even heard of
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain

* My dad drove landing craft in WW2 and was involved in bringing home British servicemen from Japanese POWs. A life-long hatred of the "Japs" followed - amongst other non-British citizens. Growing up in that environment in the Peace-loving end of the sixties convinced me that sort of attitude is wrong. I still do.
** Oh how I hate Dickens - it's like ploughing through legal documents.
*** I was transported and often forgot the time. But, by god, was Daniel Martin difficult to hide down your trousers!


Mike C. said...

Lyme Regis at half term used to be my favourite holiday -- I suppose you missed the massive bonfire on the beach and the fireworks on the Cobb? It's an amazing spectacle. We've driven down there and back a couple of times just to catch it.


Dave Leeke said...

Yes, I think they were last night. Maybe next year!

The fireworks we saw last night were quite amazing - a lot of money had been spent. I must admit, I've never really enjoyed them much since a banger went off in my hand when I was about 13. Andy and I used to sit and listen to prog rock albums drinking Spanish Graves at about 48 pence a go instead on Bonfire Night.

Mike C. said...

I miss a proper bonfire night with bonfires. I used to love that pall of smoke that hung over the town, then looking for spent rockets in the street next day.

P.S. I can't believe your school is called Doh! Academy. That must make recruitment quite difficult.


Dave Leeke said...

Oh, right - I thought it was because it was in the arse-end of Suffolk where nobody wants to come to.

I'll let the SLT know - now that Mrs Dave isn't a member of it anymore, they may not want to listen. Management always know best.

Brendini said...

I never had you down as a Dickens hater, Dave. Not even a grudging admiration of Great Expectations?

Brendini said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brendini said...

I never had you down as a Dickens hater, Dave. Not even a grudging admiration of Great Expectations?

Dave Leeke said...

I'm more of a Hardy fan, I guess. I've recently started reading Conan Doyle. but as for Dickens, Hard Times and Christmas Carol - oh, and The Signalman. I think that's about it. Actually, "hater" is rather strong. The main problem is teaching it nowadays.

Martyn Cornell said...

Each to his own - can't stand Hardy, personally, but Dickens is great, those baroque, filigreed sentences that people like Virginia Woolf hated so much - marvellous.And anyway, there's a pub in Stevenage named after one of his novels ...

Dave Leeke said...

Er, The Yorkshire Grey? The Longship? Slug and Lettuce?