“Why didn’t you tell us that you were being bullied?” asked my Dad. I shrugged and didn’t say anything.
“There’s only a week of school left. The headmaster says after the summer holidays you could go straight up into Class 4. Leave the bullies behind.”
That was how I met Macker for the first time. In his class, I was at home the first day. His full name was Mr William McEvoy, and he was as round and noisy and jolly as my previous teacher had been old-maidish and reserved. Lively and funny, Irish by descent and joyously driven by words, he was a teacher of the best kind. I never saw a cane used in his classroom. His weapons were wit and dreadful puns.
“This isn’t baldness, boy, this is an intellectual forehead.”
“Stop picking it! Stop it now or you’ll have a Roman nose -roamin’all over your face.”
“Sir! Sir! Where y’goin’f’yer holidays Sir?”-“I’m off to visit the Cheshire Witches – the North Witch, the Middle Witch and the Nant Witch.”
His love of football, and support for Everton, endeared him to the boys. He let the Liverpool supporters tease him and cheer if their team won a Derby match so he could do the same in return if Everton won. The first Latin I learned was his regular use of Everton’s motto: Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, ‘only the best is good enough.’ He encouraged us all to adopt it personally.
There were areas of knowledge I just didn’t have at the start of that year. Long division was one; he appointed one of the girls who was good at arithmetic to teach me, and despite an initial period of antagonism, she
and I are still friends 50 years later. I wish I could say my maths skills are a credit to her, but it isn’t her fault if they aren’t.
Macker kept me back after school for an hour once a week, to go through my homework for the 11 -plus examination.
For this I had two preparation books, one on language and one on maths and logic. The maths book was navy blue and the language one brown, with a tiny lattice of white spots over the covers. I jumped through every hoop Macker held up for me even though, when bored at home, I joined-up the spots into various pencil patterns. I read aloud every word he faced me with, and though I didn’t get the emphases right when I first attempted mulligatawny or melancholy, I was speechless with astonishment when he said I’d been reading the 16 year-old vocabulary list.
I must have caused Macker a lot of extra work, but I never saw any kind of irritation on his part during those donated hours.
He was critical but encouraging and very observant. It was Macker who guessed that my diffidence in the playground was due to short sightedness; he saw the way I screwed up my eyes to read the blackboard and reported to my parents – despite my bluffing – that I needed glasses.
Like all good teachers, Macker wanted the best for and from his pupils. There were no bullies in his class, because all of us were teacher’s pet. He was always ahead of his game, and I only once got the better of him, by staying in the store cupboard sharpening pencils when he moved onto a maths lesson and forgot where I was. The rest of the time,
I lapped up the vitality of his teaching, the prizes for collecting and identifying wild flowers, the huge painting sessions when we decorated the classroom for Christmas and Easter.
It was Macker who introduced Class 4 to Choral Speaking, in which his love of drama became evident. I can still hear his voice when I read Abou Ben Adhem, and see him conducting as the girls recited The Lady Of Shallott and the boys chanted their way through The Highwayman.
Macker demonstrated his own skills when he read aloud to us on Friday afternoons.
Through him I witnessed Uncle Podger’s disastrous DIY in Three Men in a Boat, the 200 horsepower scent of’splendid cheeses, ripe and mellow’, and the sinfulness of fox-terriers. He read to us The Call of the Wild, Tarka the Otter, DrJekyll and Mr Hyde,
Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Brigadier Gerard stories; in poetry, Stevenson’s From a Railway Carriage, Tennyson’s The Brook and Walter de la Mare’s The Listeners and scores of others. It was on Friday afternoons that I fell in love with the English language, spoken powerfully with rhythm and the force of real understanding.
He and his wife had no children, but he received constant classroom visits from former pupils who were now at grammar school or university or training college.
They came, bringing news of prizes and certificates that they wanted to show to him, to tell him how good his teaching had been.They came to validate their pride in themselves by the stamp of his approval. The fact that I am writing of him now proves that I did the same.
Sue Millard, Penrith, Cumbria