Today is quite a day. For a start it’s Thor Heyerdahl’s 100th birthday. He died in 2002 and was a hero of mine when I was a boy.
Heyerdahl believed that Polynesia had been colonised from South America and not
Asia as academic orthodoxy at the time believed. To prove
his theory he decided, as you do, to construct a 60 ft-long balsa raft with
sails, its design based on ancient pictures of the South American Indian’s
ocean-going vessels. He named his raft Kon-Tiki and in 1947 Thor set off from
the Peruvian . For 101 days
he and five friends drifted across the Pacific, pushed by warm currents and the
south-east trade wind. They lived on shark and caught rainwater in woven buckets and
eventually, almost 4,500 nautical miles later, the raft ran aground on the
Raroia reef, just off port
of Callao Tuamotu Island, the southernmost tip of Polynesia.
I only know this because of a Monday morning assembly I remember in infant’s school. The headmaster was a Heyerdahl fan and he managed to put across his enthusiasm to the children, well to the boys at least, and we spent many happy playtimes sailing across various oceans on our imaginary raft and eating imaginary shark. It all seemed so exciting and it was due to that single assembly that I decided to become an explorer when I grew up.
Of course I never did. But I’ve always been interested in archaeology since then and I have my old headmaster to thank for that. I mention this because today is also World Teacher’s Day and my old headmaster, whose name escapes me, but who had black hair and glasses and a daughter called Dolcie, must have been a pretty good teacher to inspire me in this way.
There have been a few teachers over the years that have moved me along a new path. Miss Johnson kindled my interest in painting and drawing, encouraging me to develop my skills, Hubby Clibbon told me that I could become anything I wanted and that I was a natural leader, Mr Ramsey (who I called just Ramsey much to his frustration) was interested in my ideas and talked to me like a person for the first time and not just a schoolboy. There are others – Mrs Barrett, Mademoiselle Reidyl, Helen Tacque, my old chemistry teacher (another name I can’t remember), Chunky Gould, Don Bessant.
A good teacher can make the difference between you grasping something or not. At school I couldn’t do maths and my teachers made me feel that there was no hope that I ever would. I never did pass my maths O level, but after school I realised that I am actually pretty good at maths. Now I’m not saying that it was all down to the teachers, but being made to stand on a chair because I couldn’t recite my eight times table, aged six, probably didn’t help. I also remember at senior school not being able to use a slide rule properly and having my maths teacher rap it over my knuckles until it broke into splinters.
No wonder I have always shied away from numbers.
I hear so many people say: I really liked English or Chemistry or German, but I didn’t like the teacher. How many of us have not taken a subject that interested us because the teacher was unapproachable, or happy to throw the board rubber at you if you weren’t giving him your full attention? I would have loved to learn the trampoline but our ex-army PE teacher took the piss out of me so much for being fat, that I never dared.
Fortunately, to balance that, there are also teachers who can make you believe that you can cross oceans on imaginary rafts - even if you can’t remember his name.