EVENTUALLY you surprise yourself by saying 30 years ago about your own life.
That phrase is about all we plan on borrowing from Philip Larkin for the moment, though the great poet and University of Hull librarian is always a good starting point.
Thirty-four years ago this column and another 29 reluctant scholars had a starting point of our own when we trooped into second class, upstairs in the old North Mon primary school, where we were the first class to come to the attention of a recent graduate from teacher training college, a Kilrush man.
The Clare reference is deliberate. At eight years of age it was a genuine surprise that somebody from another county didn’t have two heads or a prehensile tail, and it was two weeks’ work for us to get used to someone who wasn’t from Cork.
In retrospect the dates make our teacher a rough contemporary of the likes of famous hurling managers and national school teachers Ger Loughnane and Brian Cody, but our reasons for reliving the summer of ‘76 aren’t immediately sports-based.
Our teacher was more focused on getting a bunch of nose-picking urchins to focus on the three Rs, though there were wider life lessons to be learned along the way: the suggestion to avoid teaching as a career if we wanted to become rich stayed with most of us, for instance.
There was plenty of room for sport along the way as well. He had us playing basketball in the school hall, for instance, which was a novelty enjoyed by the entire class, though we all puzzled over his devotion to Stoke City, which even in the middle of the 70s was an inclination bordering on masochism.
When we hiked up to the Mon Field above the brothers’ houses to play hurling, which was about as negotiable a part of your education in that time and place as making your first communion, the class broke down much as every group of eight-year-olds does.
There were 27 kids more likely to injure themselves rather than each other with their sticks, two kids who spent the hour trying to tie their laces, and failing, and then there was the obligatory solitary prodigy who could actually rise the ball and hit it more than 20 yards. None of us were surprised when he played senior for Cork about 15 years afterwards; we were just surprised it took him that long to make it.
What stays with me was the array of jerseys, which was pretty narrow: Liverpool, Manchester United, and a fair scatter of Leeds Uniteds, who were then facing a slow decline from their recent pinnacle.
It’s a frequent motif in memories of primary school days to credit a teacher with instilling a particular passion for a subject. You might imagine in this instance it was hurling, or sport in general — Stoke City at a push, perhaps. You’d be wrong.
The great debt this column owes our teacher back in second class was confidence in what we were saying, or writing once we graduated from pencils to biros. Not an overweening cockiness, just an element of belief. That you had something worth saying.
To bolster that he had the knack of finding whatever it was you were interested in and lettingyou free to run with that: one lad in the class loved singing along with a song called Motorbikin’, then a hit but now forgotten — a prize to the reader who can name its accredited singer — and he was invited to give a rendition in front of the blackboard which I have never forgotten.
Another pupil’s obsession with sharks, sparked by a then-current movie which featured a large Great White, was eventually translated into vast posters for the classroom in which rows of teeth figured prominently (I got over my fascination eventually, though I still don’t swim in the sea).
Our class moved on eventually, and one of our other teachers in that primary school was Donal Hurley, who played in goal for the footballers of St Finbarrs and Cork. You always remember a good teacher.
When this column heard that the man at the blackboard in second class was finally stepping down, we felt it would only be appropriate to mark the occasion with a few lines. If you want to assign guilt for this column’s belief that everyone is interested in what he says, then Herman Kemp is one of the people responsible.
Enjoy the retirement. If the class of ‘76 was anything to go by, you earned it.
email@example.com; Twitter: MikeMoynihanEx
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