Sunday, October 19, 2008

Our velocity

Terry was one of the founders of the "little school" which my sister and brother and I attended. We were taken out of state school in 1979 and started at Woodhall, as it was known, a large cottage set in the hillside near our village, with a walled garden and outhouses. Due to local authority requirements, the school had to have a set, approved curriculum and was regularly inspected.

Terry and his then-girlfriend, Mary, were teachers and they created the environment around which the school, and the other teachers, coalesced. Terry was a maths teacher and enthusiast and had a powerful presence which had a strong impact on my sister and I as pre-adolescents - so much so that we professed to "hate" Terry and formed the "Terry's Rotten Apples Club" (a cipher for "Terry's Rotten") which met in a cupboard under the stairs. We teased him and Mary mercilessly - I remember my sister saying boldly, to shocked silence, "Terry and Mary are going lick the cream bowl in bed!", for their relationship, which they had clearly agreed was not to be acknowledged in the school environment (and justifiably so: it was none of our business), and for the fact that they were both vegetarians (I once hoodwinked Mary into eating a beef crisp which I'd cunningly disguised by placing it in a bag of cheese and onion crisps). We really behaved quite appallingly.

Terry taught me probability using thousands of throws of the dice, the results meticulously logged; he taught me calculus, and we drew beautiful pie charts. I loved my maths lessons, although I behaved as though I hated them; I loved Terry too. After I left when I was 13, to go to a "normal" school (which turned out to be Steiner school, so not that normal), I'd see him from time to time and always felt as though we had a special connection, not least because of my faint guilt at the way we had behaved; but also because I felt that no matter what I had done, I was forgiven.

Terry went on to become a counsellor, drawing on the infinite reserves of patience and good humour he used with us. He died three years ago, in his early fifties, of a brain tumour. For a few years before he died he suffered operations, and bloating from drugs, and periods where he was vague and slow; but he was still recognisably Terry, even though he was no longer the powerful, vital man he used to be. Even now he still seems so alive to me that I can't quite register that he isn't.

When my sister called to tell me he had died, I stood and cried on the platform of the train station in Singapore where I was waiting for a train to take me to the airport.

The last time I saw him was at my dad's birthday party. Terry held court in the corner, clearly very ill, but smiling; and in a slightly tipsy state I went over and talked to him and hugged him for a while and then said "You made me what I am". He replied "You made me what I am".


Mummy said...

This made me cry. I think this may be why people teach - goodness knows the children are generally awful.

My Terry was Mr Jones. He inspired me to love the Beatles, play the guitar and showed me a care and tenderness no other teacher did at a very rough time in my primary school life.

Everyone needs a Terry, or a Mr Jones.

Claire said...

This is almost too close to the bone for me to cry...I think I haven't quite been able to take on board all that Terry did, how awful we were to him, and the fact that he's gone. I'm really glad you had the chance to say what you said to him at Chris's party and hope that he knew how important he was to all of us, even if we weren't able to say it. I think - I hope - he has a wisdom that helped him see beyond our pubescent misdemeanours. I saw Mary recently in Sainsbury's - although we were never quite so close to her, we still do have the chance to talk to her about those days, and perhaps make amends. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Great post, LottieP. Well done.

Claire said...

I don't know about back then, but these days beef crisps and cows are apparently completely unrelated. So perhaps you weren't being as bad as you thought.

LottieP said...

Thanks, Mummy and Anonymous. I still don't think I've done Terry justice.

Funnily enough, Claire, in my self-justifying way, when telling this story I always mention the fact that beef crisps probably don't contain any beef. But that's just a mealy mouthed excuse - in legal terms the intent to deceive was definitely there.

Grande Poobah said...

What a beautiful post.

I think you're right about the beef crisps (both in terms of their lack of beef and also that intent is the most important factor)

I am glad you had the opportunity to say what was important to Terry.

Claire said...

I've just remembered our rendition of Simon and Garfunkel's Cecilia at the end-of-term show...we really were quite awful to Terry and Mary.

LottieP said...

It went something like this: "making love in the afternoon/With Mary up in my bedroom" followed by howls of laughter... Cringe.