2 Mar 2010

The prism of the past

We invited our old English teacher round for dinner.
picture B T
Well, not that old: after all 60 is the new 40 and if I'm honest he didn't seem that much older than us. You should certainly be thinking Dead Poets Society more than Goodbye Mr Chips

"Oh Captain, my Captain", I essayed when we shook hands in the hallway, and then "Ouch" as Mrs Botogol kicked me sharply in the ankle; but she needn't have bothered because Mr Robb wasn't paying any attention to me.

We are the prisoners of our pasts and captives of the prism through which we are perceived and in his eyes I was still 15, and my dad was the maths teacher, and I was giving up English in favour of computers and physics and if there are two cultures, I am in the other one.

Mrs Botogol, on the other hand, went on to A-Level English. Indeed she studied the subject at his alma mater.. there was a bond.. as there was also with the our eldest whom Mr Robb was there to coach, for she faces A-Levels of her own this summer  "Wisdom is not finally tested in the schools", I said, "wisdom cannot be passed from one having it to another not having it. Wisdom is of the soul, it is not susceptible of proof, it is its own proof."

They weren't listening - they were discussing an article Mr Robb had written for an on-line journal comparing Brideshead Revisited with The Great Gatsby.

"That Anthony Andrews never did much, really, after Brideshead", I opined. Cast as the oaf I rose easily to the challenge: "when you think about it Robert Redford was much more successful".

"Be a dear and go and check the potatoes, will you"

And so it came to pass that during the only literary meeting in our house for eleven years (I am not allowed at  Mrs Botogol's book club) I spent the hour in the kitchen while Mrs Botogol and our guest settled in the drawing room (no, we don't normally have a drawing room but somehow it had risen to the occasion) where they engaged in grown-up literary criticism of the most sparkling and erudite kind, occasionally sending for more smoked salmon blini (easy on the dill, dear, and can you have a look in the cupboard for those smoked almonds we got from the nice deli in Winchelsea ?)

When eventually the roast was captive and the vegetables under control and I ventured in to top up their glasses they were talking about Chekhov "Did you tell Mr Robb how I once wrote a blogpost about Chekhov", I asked lamely, and there was a sudden silence. I realised was trying too hard.

"What?"

"I said how long do you reckon it takes to cook a Yorkshire Pudding? Only my batter looks really watery  - do you think I should add another ten minutes?"

I am large, I contain multitudes.

We had roast beef and plenty of gravy, and although the Yorkshire was soggy (no one asked me for the recipe) the potatoes were perfect. Mr Robb and I drank two bottles of red wine between us; he asked me if I was in IT and in retaliation I told him about the teachers at school whom I had particularly admired.

Next week my mates are coming round and we are mostly talking rugby.

1 comment:

Scribbler said...

This is a great post. Tomorrow we will run faster, I suppose.