My teachers at Primary school were a mixed bunch. I’ve described the first two that I recall yesterday. Mrs Pritchard, the starched and Mrs Taylor the philosophical. Today we will move on to Mrs Greening, the serene.
Mrs Greening caused my dad to explode. It was probably the only time that happened between my parents and a teacher. School was to be revered – at least in front of the children. The fact that his school days were unremittingly awful didn’t cut it for us. We were going to be educated, like it or no.
The cause of the pain, oddly, was the 1963 General Election. I was 7 going on 8 and this election saw the first Socialist government in nearly 15 years – the election slogan on behalf of the Labour Party was ‘13 years of Tory Mis-rule’. No change there then. But the result would be close with the Liberals expected to do well – they had won a stunning by-election in Orpington in 1962. I knew none of this of course; my interests extended to Thomas the Tank engine and games of ‘it’ in the playground. I was like most of my class mates; indifferent to the world of news and politics. But the smiling, blonde bouffanted Mrs Greening, with her lacy blouses and flowing skirts was a modern teacher who believed we needed to understand what was engaging our parents.
That led to one sunny afternoon when she found herself trying to explain to us the concept of a hung parliament with the Liberals holding the balance of power. You have to admire her for this; it really can’t have been easy, corralling hyper seven year olds, unexpectedly freed from the classroom and being sorted into teams. I have a vivid memory of how she did it. She asked us if we knew how our parents would vote. Those who did were put in the appropriate teams and those who didn’t were arbitrarily allotted to a side. We were then moved around to show how, by going into ‘coalition’ two smaller parties could defeat the larger.
This was so exciting and led to new allegiances being formed across otherwise settled playground groups. In break time we battled alongside our ‘liberal’ allies to defeat the tyranny of the socialist-rabble-rousers/arrogant-Tory-toffs, depending on your view point. But the trouble came at home, when I explained, as best I could what Mrs Greening had attempted to do. Were my parents encouraged at such lessons, innovative as they were? No way. My father, a great believer in the sanctity of the secret ballot, was horrified that his voting inclinations might become public knowledge. He was furious.
And unlike on other occasions when my parents disagreed with a teacher and probably raised their concerns with him or her discretely, this dispute went public.. It must have been big because I remember so well Dad’s dislike of Mrs Greening and, horror of horrors, his contempt for her. Such a thing! Such a wonder! Who knew politics could be so exciting? Maybe that’s why I’ve always been engaged in the hopeless farrago that accompanies elections, not because I worry for our futures, but because it brings back memories of playground battles and a fuming parent.
Did my father’s patent antipathy change her? Not one jot. She smiled and sailed on, teaching us in her individualistic and esoteric way.
That academic year my education was disrupted by some several weeks in hospital – I had a virus which for some time they thought was meningitis. As I recall it was later shown to be Bornholm disease but not before I had to have a lumber puncture, singularly the most painful bodily experience that has occurred with a radius of one foot of my rump.
And the physical discomfort didn’t end there, because I was rendered immobilised by Mrs Greening’s introduction of Scottish Country dancing. I won’t repeat what I wrote about it here, if you want to suffer with me…
Yes, it was a memorable year and, sadly for the next year long she left that summer, in a breezy final cloud of talc and optimism, always smiling, always it seemed indifferent to the way things were done. And in its way that was a valuable lesson, too.