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.