Schoolmasters, where are they?

Here’s another of those missing persons, with words by Gordon Thorburn. The drawing is based on my old history master who was a gem of the species names Mr Trethewey. Even the name was right. He did, as I recall, smoke his bike whilst pedalling and I always had the impression that he was burning old compost in there.

For more of Gordon’s golden words go to
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Whilst I’m at it here’s a really good blog where the writing is witty and erudite every week.



Extinction is inevitable if it hasn’t happened already. We’re talking state school here; all sorts of rare types thrive in the private sector.

Schoolmaster wore a suit to work or, at the very least, a sports jacket with leather elbow patches (vide Proper Doctor). He smoked a pipe which he fuelled with WD&HO Wills’ Gold Block and could often be seen, winter and summer alike, drawing on his pipe while cycling along on his Rudge sit-up-and-beg. In atrocious weather, his wife drove him to school in the family Ford Popular.

At work, he wore a university gown which had long tears in it and was covered with chalk dust. He strode along the corridor with purposeful mien as knots of children unravelled before him. He could remember the names (surnames, naturally) of all the children he ever taught and they, for the whole of their lives, remembered him fondly, gratefully and distinctively. They remembered what he taught them, too.

Schoolmaster is not to be confused with Schoolteacher. Schoolteacher smokes dope, listens to Leonard Cohen records, supports Manchester United and wears trainers and jeans to work. Although both varieties, one now so rare and one so common, always shared a certain naiveté about life in the big wide world, Schoolmaster’s was of an innocent, forgivable sort.

He knew all there was to be knowed about the A-level physics, maths, English or history syllabus and nothing at all about life, or anything else except the clues in The Guardian crossword. He realised this and confined his advice to his recognised areas of expertise.

Schoolteacher, similarly specialised, nevertheless carries banners in demos, feels solidarity with the miners but not the farmers and has fierce arguments about the Euro, the wars in Ndanga, Irdukhistan and the Undisputed Territories, and believes equally in a woman’s right to choose an abortion and a child’s right to choose what it learns at school.

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