At the chalkface: Meeting Mrs Malaprop

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

A real perk about being retired is meeting former students. It’s a sort of temporal vertigo. It’s difficult to know what tense you’re in.

I clamber into a rush hour Tube. It is, as ever, packed and stoically silent. I must stand and cling to a strap. Blank-eyed passengers shut out the world with the usual devices. A middle-aged woman waves at me and wonders very nicely if I’d like her seat. I’m not best pleased.

“No, no, thank you.”

She’s getting up. Am I so conspicuously a pensioner?

“No, no, it’s all right, thanks.”

I’m looking pretty sprightly this morning. Spruce, scrubbed, shaved, even moisturised. A rather fetching Trilby trumps the thinning locks. This is about as good as I get. Surely I can’t be mistaken for a senior citizen? Am I so conspicuously sclerotic? Apparently so. The woman is quietly insistent. I’d like a seat, but my vanity is still irked. The woman has now stood up and I seem to be sitting down.

“Thanks very much.”

“You used to be my teacher.”

She smiles.

“Erm...”

“In the early eighties.”

“Erm...”

“You used to be Mr Whitwham.”

“I still am.”

“Wigwam!”

“Tess!” “Yes.”

“Tess. Tess. Yes. Of course. Well I never. My goodness. Hello.”

Tess was in my tutor set, an introverted, sensitive, clever pupil caught in the maelstrom that was Dave Mania and his chums. She probably thought my classroom management was a bit suspect. It was. She was also in my O level English group. “Weren’t you Mrs Malaprop? In Sheridan’s The Rivals?”

“Yes! That’s me.”

“You were so funny.”

She went on to do science in the sixth form and at university. I never saw her again. We do some quick catching up. She is going to work. She is a senior consultant in a leading London hospital trauma unit.

“My tutor set stood you in good stead.” She smiles.

A real perk about being retired is meeting former students. It’s a sort of temporal vertigo. It’s difficult to know what tense you’re in. All those past moments quite forgotten and then you’re in a freeze frame of their schooldays. It can happen anywhere, like a pavement, pub, QPR, café, or this Tube. You stay the same, they can turn into anything – like a trauma consultant. You feared they might not to make it in this increasingly harsh world, but most do. Tess gets out. “Goodbye sir. Goodbye Wigwam.”

“See you then Tess.”

“Take care ... and thanks.”

And she’s gone. I feel good, if a bit elegiac. Fancy meeting Mrs Malaprop! Fancy meeting Tess! After all those years. My stop is next. I get up, sclerotically, from the pensioners’ seat and skip out at Kings Cross with a spring in my step.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


Comments
Name
 
Email
 
Comments
 

Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
 
Sign up SecEd Bulletin