It is eleven years ago today that mum died. Those eleven years seem to have passed very quickly, yet that day itself is hazy in my memory. I’d spent a lot of time in the hospice with her when we thought she might die at any moment, but after a few days I needed to go back to my own family, and I was in school when the news came from my sister that she had finally breathed her last.
I had a bit of a moment at work today, not only because of mum, but thinking of dad in hospital and how I’ve allowed work to get in the way of getting over to see him. As it seems to be getting in the way of pretty much everything that isn’t work, and lots of things that are, for that matter, just now. Fortunately it was a training day so I wasn’t in front of a class and between a bit of staring into the middle distance and swallowing hard I don’t think anyone noticed. I get moments like that more often when there isn’t any particular anniversary though. Often it’s when Katie does or says something that makes me think how mum would have loved to see or hear her as she loved all her grandchildren, and of course her own children, and countless other peoples’ too, for that matter.
That scrap of paper above, with the papal rosary mum wore round her neck in the hospice, contains the jotted prayers I wrote when we had a little ‘service’ at a bunk-barn in Settle for mum’s 70th. One of the lines was: ‘we thank you that she has lived to see our children born and growing’ and I always feel a little sad that Katie is the only one of her grandchildren that she never did get to meet.
Maybe when we take Jack to university on Sunday, I will have another of those face tightening, lip biting moments as I remember mum hugging me goodbye as she and dad left me at Oxford. I couldn’t imagine then how much I’d miss her.
At the weekend I heard the sad news that my favourite English teacher, ‘Delme’ Thomas died in August. I felt saddened because it is sad news in itself, and 72 has long since stopped seeming like a ‘ripe old age’, but also at my own failure in leaving it too late to get in touch with him again. I’d intended to several times over the years, but never quite got round to it. Not long before the summer holidays I googled him to see if I could find an email address, and found one, but waited until I had time to sit down properly and think what to write. Well, of course I didn’t carve out that time. It’s too late for him to see it now, but I have taken the time to think about the teacher of mine that I most owe my being an English teacher to, and the one I have most wanted to emulate. Sometimes (it doesn’t happen often), when a lesson has gone well and the students leave the room bubbling with enthusiasm, I think, “that’s how Delme would have done it”:
His spittle-flecked enthusiasm drew us in
To 1984 in ’84.
Round shoved-together tables, clustered lads,
Set free from deadening dictatorial rows,
We mapped the tension, characters and plot
With sugar paper, coloured pens galore.
The whirling-limbed and laughter filled approach
Of those thin lips, eye-beams, that signpost nose;
The floppy fringe flicked back Fred Trueman-like
As he threw back his head with a guffaw,
Then bent, nicotined-breathed, to chat with us
As though we mattered, since, to him, we did.
He led us then down the glass corridor
To watch Dench and McKellen in Macbeth
On huge en-cabinned screen, on video.
(He made the ‘d’ alone last half that word!)
In that melodious South Walian lilt
He spoke of cinema, scarce drawing breath,
Yet somehow no superfluous words were spilt.
We went to Harrogate theatre: Oscar Wilde’s
Coruscating wit seemed no more sharp
Than what we heard each day in Delme’s class,
Addressing politics, Pontypridd or Pope,
Cynddylan on a Tractor, Evelyn Waugh,
A Neath fly-half, or Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’.
That he was younger then than I am now
Seems quite absurd; he had such gravitas –
Yet leavened with a levity of touch.
I wish I’d written, got to see once more
My English teacher, whom I owe so much.
Donations in his memory can be made at: https://www.justgiving.com/GordonDelmeThomas/, and those who knew him can leave tributes at: http://gordondelmethomas.co.uk/