Monday, 6 October 2014

Thor Heyerdahl and teachers...

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 port of Callao. 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 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.


  1. There's been a very good R4 afternoon series called "The Educators" on recently talking about new educational theories, etc., one of which was to almost remove the teachers from education altogether. Fascinating stuff. Disappointed recently, too, by a teacher acquaintance who told me that they never listen to R4... (which, to me, might be part of the problem...)

    1. Well, I have gleaned a great deal of my knowledge and outlook from listening to Radio 4.

  2. Steph Rogers on FB
    Mr groom

    1. Andrew Height
      Thanks Steph it was driving me crazy. What was the one after called, the one that banned jeans and made us use italic nibbed pens?

    2. Steph Rogers
      Think u mean mr ellis?

    3. Andrew Height
      I think you are right there too. I wasn't keen on him.

    4. Steph Rogers
      Dont ask how the hell i remember but he always used to say his full name! George frank austin ellis!! God andrew dont know why i always remember that!!!

    5. Andrew Height
      God indeed Steph! Your memory is phenomenal. All I remember about him was that I thought he was an arse and made us follow stupid rules

  3. Gloria Brown on FB
    Mr Broom, he had a son called Jonathan, not sure what his daughters name was?

  4. Andrew Height
    Wasn't it Dolcie? She had black curly hair.

    1. Steph Rogers on FB
      Yes think ur right on this one Andrew Height!!

    2. 12 hours ago · Like · 1

      Andrew Height
      Well, between us we put the pieces together. We were so lucky to go to a school like that. Mt Broom and his family used to live in the schoolhouse and sometimes Dolcie would be in the garden at playtime, I'm not sure that Ellis did though.

  5. Emma Cholmondeley on FB
    I hope I leave something worthwhile in the heads and hearts of some of my pupils then maybe it'll all be worth it!

    1. Andrew Height
      Well, I wrote my blog tonight for you. So I hope so too.

    2. Emma Cholmondeley
      To hear a teenager say "ahhhh Mrs Cholmondeley, she inspired me"- that would be just wonderful

    3. Andrew Height
      I have no doubt that there will be dozens at least Emma.

  6. and the rest of that Facebook conversation:

    Steph Rogers Yes mr Ellis did live In the cottage nxt to the school im sure? And the caretaker used to live in the 1st cottage by the School, didnt mr groom live in the School house? Part of the school,

    Gloria Brown It was Mr Ennis yes that lived in the cottage and the caretaker can't think of his name?
    Yes, I'm sure Mr Groom lived in the school house!

    Gloria Brown Sorry Mr Broom x

    Gloria Brown Mr Ennis was my teacher who liked animals, I really liked him

    Gloria Brown Mr Lane was one of the caretakers in the school opposite St Joseph's church!

    Steph Rogers Oh yes he was! Oh no Gloria this is starting all over again about our old

    Gloria Brown It's so nice to go down memory lane x

    Steph Rogers Yes it is they were good days x

    Andrew Height I wasn't a fan of Mr Ennis, but I loved Mrs Mathews. I remember Mr Lane. He always had a fire bucket full of sawdust to suck up the sick in the hall after assembly. Yes, it is good to share these memories.

    Gloria Brown Yes, I remember the dreaded fire bucket too!

    Gloria Brown Mr Richards (taffy) was the best teacher, he took us for PE, loved sports day!

    Lindsey Messenger I remember rosehip picking with Mrs Matthews to make wine...and elderflowers.

    Andrew Height Taffhy lived on Kings Close on the block just down from us. He had loads of kids and liked a drink. He was a really nice man once got nreally angry with me for smashing Nigel Lancaster's head against a wall. Nigel and I were the best of friends after that.

    Gloria Brown Oh really!
    I remember Clive & Steve Richards Taffy's sons. Did Nigel have a big brother?

    Lindsey Messenger yeah I think Nigel did have a brother.

    Andrew Height Yes. The Lancaster family, Nigel, his brother, and his mum lived in a caravan behind a pub. His mum was the cook. He and his brother faked a UFO which was published in the Thames Gazette and then exposed the week after. Such a scandal. I think the pub might have been the Nag's Head. Later she worked at Shergold's where I had a Saturday job.

    Gloria Brown Oh yes, I remember the caravan behind the pub!

    Lindsey Messenger Or was it the Black Horse ?..... Amazing how a few comments can bring back so many memories

    Gloria Brown Yes, I think it was the Black Horse was Nigel's brother called Barry?

    Andrew Height Was the library on North Street? If so it was the pub on the corner at the top opposite the market. I should blog my memories of Thame more often. Thanks all.

    Andrew Height Yeah, it could have been Barry. He was a bit wild I remember. Great times

    Lindsey Messenger No library was at bottom of Blackhorse Lane....Pub at the top

    Andrew Height Of course! Thanks Lindsey.