Bruce Mitchell, my English teacher at Ashby Grammar School in the 1980s is often referred to by his more formal moniker, Brucey Babes.
By the wonders of modern aviation, he is not at home, but three hours down the Great Ocean Road from me in Williamstown near Melbourne. His daughter, whom I babysat for when she was five, coincidently married the brother of a friend of mine’s son in law!
He answers the phone and of course he knew it was going to be me. He is draining the pasta with the phone tucked under his chin and we agree to try again in 30 minutes.
In that time I revisit 1986 in my mind, largely because of his distinctive voice which ushers a whole era back into my consciousness but I remember that he has a subdued telephone voice that doesn’t match his real one.
Again he answers the phone and I whoop about, screaming here, laughing uproariously there, as he carries on speaking as if he is reading the news for BBC Scotland.
I was his prefect. This meant that in the last year of my education I went into his classroom first thing in the morning and took the register. I ask him, like an ex girlfriend, my teenage angst coming to the fore, ‘Did you pick me as your prefect or were we just thrown together?’ I now can’t remember whether he said he did or he didn’t!
I talk to him about that class of his and he can’t remember them. He struggles to remember who my friends were and thinks I must be over 50! He reminds me that he has taught A LOT of people over the years and now they haunt his facebook friend list. In my notes I wrote down ‘people’ because I think teachers generally say they have taught a lot of ‘kids’. That was what set Bruce apart from the others, we were all just young people to him and he respected every one of us.
Some of my many delusions were shattered in this talk. I have been thinking all these years that Bruce still remembers everything I ever said, just as I remember everything he ever said. I thought he’d be carrying me around in his heart, as I have been carrying him around in mine. He hasn’t and he didn’t. Perhaps that’s another sign of a good teacher. He made me think that what I thought was important, to him! He remains professional to a tee in our conversation as I chirp wildly about everything from our shared past and almost shock him with the details!
In 1979 my Mum had pointed him out to me on the stairs of the lecture theatre when my sister had a lead role in a DH Lawrence (obscure) play ‘The Widowing of Mrs Holroyde.’ I was twelve. He was wearing red glasses and had been tipped to be the next big thing at the school with his modern teaching methods. I talk about all the books we studied with him and he vaguely remembers teaching them. I tell him that he told us that ‘irony’ is like being run over by an ambulance and he likes that.
I confide in him about a final year Christmas party, which he knew nothing about. Ten girls went to another, more senior, teacher’s house. We danced all afternoon with the curtains closed in his lounge, got completely paralytic on sweet white wine (I threw up in his sink, he held my hair) and then we all went back to the school bus stop, to catch the buses home as usual. When the bus stopped at my house, I fell out and onto the verge where my sister found me on my hands and knees. It was the norm back then!
He tells me that with the dumbing down of the syllabus he found himself teaching French. He sees the funny side in that. I reel off the names of the scholarly French teachers in my day and he says that our conversation is becoming like ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. He reminds me that he was born in 1950 and is enjoying life as a senoir member of our society because so many people stop him in the street to chat. I used to stop him in the street to chat when he was 38!
He has become the director of The Samaritans in Leicester and tells me, ‘if you ever think you have problems, believe me, you don’t.’
I tell him that living in a seaside town in Australia is a bit like living in Toytown (I actually crave a bit of grim inner city grit occasionally). Everything blue and sandy can feel a bit unreal.
But I’m living the dream. I have just spoken to my English teacher and friend for the first time in years and what could be better?