Went to my daughter's school play yesterday - a fantastic musical version of The Wind in the Willows - performed by forty odd seven year olds. Miss Mills didn't have a starring role, but her home made rabbit ears were clearly superior and she delivered her single line with both alacrity and clarity so we came away feeling that family honour was well satisfied.
The various preparations for the play caused me to cast my mind back to my old secondary school headmaster. My impression is that he was regarded, not just by his pupils, as a faintly ridiculous character. He had been an Oxford rugby blue and began his varsity career studying medicine, before switching to history. Known universally, and without the slightest hint of innuendo, as Big Dick he seemed comically out of place in my slightly down at heal, though far from "bog-standard", comp.
Even in the seventies his habit of wearing an academic gown when taking school assembly as well as the stethoscope that hung in his office seemed decidedly odd. What put him almost beyond the pale for me was his robust insistence that The Wind in the Willows was the greatest book in the English Language. With the arrogant dismissal of youth I decided that the old fellow was either cracked or a philistine or possibly both.
And now here I am, probably about the same age as Big Dick was when I was under his tutelage, with an admittedly little worn academic gown hanging on the back of my study door finding myself much more sympathetic towards his views about Kenneth Grahame's masterpiece. Perhaps not the greatest book, but one of the greatest. Read it aloud to someone you love and you will come to love it too (someone once gave me the same advice about Wittgenstein's Tractaus Logico-Philosophicus but I have yet to put that to the test).
Absurd as he seemed at the time, I've learned that there was much more to Big Dick than met the schoolboy eye. As well as having excellent literary taste it turns out that he was capable of immense personal kindness towards the children in his care and a fine history teacher to boot. The young are by nature quick to judge a book by its cover, but with time many of them will learn to appreciate the content. I suppose that is what education is all about.
Here's Van Morrison.