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MY BELOVED and I were talking about teachers recently as he seems to have forgotten everything he was taught at school. He blames himself for not listening saying that when it came to food for thought his brain had anorexia.

They don't make teachers like they used to I'm delighted to say as most of ours seemed to revel in putting the fear of God into us. Take Willie Whiff my maths teacher, for example. In today's litigious society I could have sued him for a fortune on the grounds that he used to send me to the back of the class to draw a picture because he thought my brain too dim to grasp the subject of algebra.

There was no way I could have argued the toss and told him that it wasn't so much couldn't grasp it as wouldn't because the subject bored me bandy. We had no say in those days.

Then there was Miss Owen the cookery teacher who, after the episode with the tossed pancake stuck on the ceiling above the Aga, said that she pitied any man who was unfortunate enough to marry me as they would starve to death waiting for me to produce something edible and the RI teacher who hit me on the head with a brass hinged bible because I hadn't done my homework.

I had no idea that teachers could be anything but petrifying until I went to college and there I met one who was to have a profound influence on my life.

David Kendal Williams taught English; he was a dapper little man in a brown check suit, his hair was dark and crinkly and his eyes were the colour of Duckhams 20/50 car oil. He spoke several languages and was a mine of information on every subject under the sun.

Every girl he taught fell in love with him because he was one of those rare people who knew how to talk to young people and made each of us feel special by treating us with the right degree of familiarity and respect. He was warm, kind and generous with his time and because we all loved him we hung on his every word.

All of a sudden I could see the point of Shakespeare where before it had been incomprehensible twaddle. I was on the moor with the three witches and in the room with Lady MacBeth as she tried in vain to rid her hands of blood. How he fired my imagination when he talked of faraway places, the Kalahari desert bloomed in a Welsh classroom and the red ball of the African sun set in a blaze of glory on a chilly winter's morning.

Synonyms and metaphors, double negatives and spoonerisms were learned with ease because we wanted so much to please him. I never saw him lose his temper unlike almost every other teacher I'd had. I marvel now at the way some of them behaved; throwing the duster across the room and clipping boys' ears as they went past; these days it's more likely to be the other way round. I remember one science teacher telling me that the only reason she didn't throw a Bunsen burner at me was a fear of hitting someone else which did wonders for my self esteem.

D.K. was a huge influence on my life. When I started writing for a living I wrote and told him that it was thanks to him as he had sown the seed in his classroom by telling me I should be a writer. He died just weeks before my first real feature was published.

Teachers who bothered to communicate with young minds were few and far between when I was young. It takes a particular skill to get through to young people and apart from D.K. I don't think many of the teachers gave a lot of thought to the influence they had on us.

They did their job and whether you chose to gain anything from it was up to you.

This week our little village has lost a wonderful woman. Jo Smith was a teacher and though she was only in her fifties she was teaching at the local comprehensive when my beloved was a pupil there. Both my daughters went to the same school and, though she didn't teach them, Shereen is devastated because she thought the world of her. It seems so cruel that she was taken because she was a church-going person who did no harm to anyone. Another example of our Lord's mysterious ways which we're not supposed to question.

She was one of those special people whose life will cast long shadows and her death will leave a hole in our community. Everyone who knew her - not just her pupils - will always remember her as a good person who went through life gently. In these dark days with so many evil people in the world hell bent on destruction that's quite an epitaph.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 15, 2003
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