When I was at university, it was forbidden to write in the first person and the expression of personal opinions would have been met with disapproval. Four decades on from the year I began undergraduate studies, it seems strange to be engaged in a teacher training course that purports to be a master’s level qualification, yet asks for personal reflections.
Were I to reflect upon my ideal teacher, it would be Mr Britten.
Mr Britten was headmaster of High Ham Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School – we were always encouraged to use the full name, though Church of England might be abbreviated to CofE and Voluntary Controlled might become “VC.” He arrived at our two teacher primary school for the last term I was there, the summer term f 1972. He was very different from his predecessor. He wore a sports jacket and trousers, and always a collar and tie. His hair was closely cropped, something very unfashionable in the early-1970s. he drove a bright orange coloured “K” registered car, the most up to date registration possible in the spring of that year. He played the piano with one finger, and much humour, and he was very fond of reading. It was the reading that made him special for me. At the end of the day he would read to the whole class, the book still remains clear in the memory, Bran of the Moor. Mr Britten was probably not so many years older than those he taught.
Snatches of conversations still remain in the memory. He once asked, maybe in the context of some English comprehension exercise, what was meant when it said that someone was “middle aged”.
“They are in their thirties”, I answered. It seemed a reasonable answer. In 1972, people died in their sixties and thirty was halfway to sixty, so it was the middle.
Mr Britten smiled. “I hope not”, he said.
Years later a philosophy lecturer looked at our class of young students. ‘Your outlook on life changes once you pass forty’, he said, ‘then you realize that you really are going to die.” So middle age was reached at forty, not thirty, I was ten years out. But when did we really realize that a halfway point would come in our lives and that then, after the second half had been lived, there would come an end?
There are moments when those blissful, hopeful happy days with Mr Britten seem infinitely attractive. They were days when the world seemed young and when life seemed to stretch out forever, they were days when even being like M Britten and being thirty was such a remote prospect that it could be altogether discounted from your mind.