Into each life there comes someone special. In my case it was an English teacher I had in my last year at school, a character and brain of note.
So here I was in darkest Africa at secondary school and a very hard place it was. However I had now grown past the terrible new boy status and was in my fourth year when I really began to get to know this teacher. Up until then I had had very little to do with him, although had lot’s do with his lovely wife who taught, or tried to teach, young boys music. Now there must have been a frustrating experience? But I digress, so back to Harold.
Now as a prelude one has to understand that Harold was streaks ahead of his time, as far as teachers were concerned in those days. He didn’t believe in beating boys with canes for their misdemeanour’s, amongst many other things, for a start. He was a very good looking man and exceptionally bright, teaching Latin and English to the older boys in the school and those with some semblance of a brain. He also had the most peculiar walk I have ever seen. Akin to military marching back to front. So the left foot and the left arm went out in tandem together, followed by the right arm and leg in the same sequence. Oh, lo, alas all slightly out of time and sync. Does this mean he was ambidextrous?
Now I got to know him at this time as he was the third team cricket coach and as a fourth year lad playing cricket, albeit I should have been playing first’s (well I should), but, unfortunately had had a rather chequered school career till this time and the teachers were still in the pay back mode. All except Harold of course who never had a mean bone in his body. Now third team cricket was a passion in Harold’s life and they hadn’t lost a game in all the time he was coach and he was ‘dead’ proud of this. Whether of course this was due to the exceptional skills of the boys and coach, or to the coach’s sometimes dodgy (in times of acute peril), umpiring decisions, is of course open to debate?
So a classic example. We were playing Milton our biggest rivals and their opening bat was approaching his hundred, fast running out of partners and only one man left to bat. The game was almost theirs, so some fast thinking was needed. Said batsmen then faced a delivery wide of off stump. He went back on his right foot at the same time lifting his bat and letting the ball through. It missed pads, bat and stumps by the proverbial mile. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on which side you were on. The ball was taken cleanly without a bounce by our wicket keeper, the legendary Butch Ogilvie and a raucous cry of ‘HOWZAT’ was heard. Furious the Milton bat swung around and was berating poor old Butch. Fate intervened in the form of Harold. Now whether this was because he was making up for a dodgy decision by the opposing umpire against us? Or whether he was ‘dreaming of another time, a foreign place, the shifting image in a half remembered face’, and Butch’s raucous appeal had woken him from his reverie, God alone knows, but, the finger went up. The Milton batsmen was still berating Butch, who could see past him to the blissful finger going up so received the laconic reply. “On your horse boerewors.”
Startled and shocked the Milton bat swung around and saw the dreaded finger. Now Milton lads must be made of sterner stuff than we, because he silently and without protest took the long walk home to the pavilion. Harold promptly gave the next man in out on the first ball he faced, LBW. Oh what splendid times they were and thirds cricket had won yet again, again by the skin of our teeth and great bowling by Spook Moor.
Now every year the school magazine came out and Harold always wrote a piece on his beloved thirds. Marvellously written they were to and his wonderful sense of humour was always at the fore. In latter years long after leaving school I often used to read these again for some fun. Sadly I no longer have any copies, but, I do have some memories. One of my favourites being Harold was waxing on about the benefits of playing for thirds and he could never understand why any boy would want to play for any other team? My favourite:
“Maasdorp our best batsmen was often called upon to go and play for the seconds, where he fielded.”
As always, good point.
George Orwell and 1984.
Classic read, told by a classic teacher.
So I was now in my last year at school as a sixth former writing English Literature as one of my subjects. The English teacher being none other than dear old Harold, the great brain and humourist. Now we were more grown up then and got away with more. Harold had an old clapped out station wagon car known by all the boys as the ‘Rhino’. He was often seen driving around the school in this, always, and I mean always, with his wife in the back seat.
“Sir, why do you always chauffeur your wife around?”
Immediate reply, “look if she wants to be a back seat driver then surely she should sit in it?”
Another time, first day back at school.
“Sir, how is the old Rhino riding?”
Again immediate, “a lot better than my wife thanks.”
This then was the great man teaching us and one of our set books for studying was George Orwell’s classic novel 1984. We could not have had a better or more erudite teacher teaching us this. Now I sat in the left hand side of the class against the wall and near a window. Harold often used to say to me:
“I think the wall can support itself thanks Moor.”
Now before I go on I must mention that Harold had a classic English upper class la,di, da, accent.
Anyway we had reached the stage in the book where the two central characters were being brainwashed by the authorities, and chilling stuff it was too. Harold was impassioned about this and began waxing lyrical about it, as was so often the case with him. At the end of his long peroration he said:
” Now you are all young men about to begin your adult lives, and I implore you all to never allow this type of thing to happen. You are the last bastions of defence against this type of dastardly practice and I am sure, knowing you all so well over the last six years, that you will stand firm.”
By this time he was actually frothing at the mouth so impassioned had he become. He then asked the brightest boy in the class sitting one desk from the back.
“Now then Cowper what do you have to say on all that?”
Now Cowper was fast approaching (nay fully blown into hoodlism), so Harold got the well thought out reply of:
“Nothing much, I’m easy.”
Harold’s face drained of all colour, his arms extended, went fully rigid, and gripped the edges of his desk, and in his impeccable English voice, screeched:
“Yoooooooooooooooooooou,” and then a sharp explosive, “rat.”
He stood up with such force that his chair clattered into the blackboard and broke into a thousand moving pieces. He then advanced on Cowper with his odd walk like a Lioness who has suddenly decided, no more playing, it’s time for the kill. By this time Cowper’s face was draining of all colour as well. He reached Cowper’s desk, and proceeded to clap him on the head with all the force he could muster. Having done so, he marched to the door of the classroom. Stopped there, turned around and said:
“I refuse to teach a class with Cowper in it.”
We never saw him for the rest of the term. Now exams came up (the official ones), and when I saw my paper I realised that I couldn’t answer a single, solitary, question. Comes of only doing one nights study the night before writing the paper? In such times one has to box very clever? So I kept calm and thought to myself, ‘now what was Harold always waffling on about’? I proceeded to write. Lo and behold, believe it or not, I got a distinction for English Literature.
The moral of the story?
Listen to your teachers, especially when they know what they are talking about.
You don’t believe me?
Look around you at the World we now live in.