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Feather's Miscellany: Ann

John Waddington-Feather tells a tale which proves that good teaching can bear fruit generations later.

They weren't the brightest of kids, but they were among the best I ever taught. They were at the bottom of their grammar school year group -good, solid youngsters who all made out well in the end. No drop-outs, no failures.

It was the 1950s, when life was more simple and there was no drug scene among the young; when life still held purpose even though rationing made it austere; when the nation was still licking its war wounds, picking itself up and re-building its bombed cities and towns; still grieving for its dead.

And the young, if more subdued than the present generation, were certainly more mature. They might have known less about sex but they knew much more about society.

In the 1950s, post-war Europe was still in turmoil. Displaced people were everywhere, many coming to Britain, starting afresh after the trauma of the Holocaust and the brutality of battle. More were to arrive after the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and the Czech uprising ten years later.

The very first Asians were migrating here, too, and among that first group coming from India and Pakistan were youngsters making their way to the universities via the old grammar schools alongside the children of refugees from Eastern Europe.

But most seemed to make out whether they went to university or not. Certainly none of 5T, whose form-teacher I was, went to college or university once they'd taken their school-leaving certificate. Yet they made a success of life. Several went into the police, some became secretaries, a couple set up their own fruit import business.

'Titch' Williams finished up owning his own textile mill and used to fly back from wherever he was selling his cloth, just to attend class reunions. We were as closely knit as that - a family.

Ann was a good-looking girl and very gifted. She'd have gone far had she gone on to university, but she was dragged out of school at fifteen by her mother. There was no father at home and never had been; that I discovered later quite by chance.

She shone among her peers when it came to English. She'd a good command of language and her work was head and shoulders above the rest of the class; but most of all she was a born actress.

She'd a good singing voice, too, and sang in the school choir till she left. And it was her voice that brought life into the classroom in every part she played, especially the Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly kind of characters. Later, also, I realised why she had empathy with those characters.

Then she was suddenly pulled out of school by her mother. I didn't know what job she went into and assumed it was weaving, for there was good money to be earned in the mills then. Her leaving saddened us all, staff and schoolmates alike. Nothing the headmaster did persuaded her mother to let her return.

I didn't see her for some time and then only by chance. I was in Bradford one afternoon and suddenly heard a commotion in the street behind me. I looked round and was shocked to see Ann being dragged by the hair and beaten by a drunken old woman, her mother. A police man and woman came on the scene and the mother was bundled into a patrol car, still screaming abuse. Ann was left embarrassed, sobbing on the street comforted by a passer-by.

I went up to her and she smiled through her tears. I told the woman who I was and took Ann into a nearby cafe to tidy up and have a cuppa. It was then she told me the full story.

Her mother was a prostitute and Ann had no idea who her father was. Her mother was still on the game, but she'd aged and custom didn't come as easy. That was why she'd taken Ann out of school, to bring in some money. She spent as much on booze as anything else.

That afternoon, Ann had been trying to get her drunken mother back home when she'd flared up and began attacking her in the street. It was the last straw. Ann was going to leave home and find her own place in Bradford.

We got on to the old days and chatted about her classmates, who'd left school and were doing well, so that by the time we left she'd cheered up and I wished her well. If we could help at school, she'd only to ask.

The next time we met was some years later. I was catching a train to London and had some time to kill so I popped into an hotel near the station. It was a cosy, friendly place. You could sense that immediately you went in. I went up to the bar and ordered my drink. I pulled out my purse to pay when a voice behind me said, "You're not paying for that, Sir. It's on the house."

I turned, and facing me was Ann, now married with a family and joint owner of the place with her husband. She rushed over and flung her arms about me giving me a full-blooded kiss on the lips. Then she stood back and laughed. "I've been dying to do that ever since I was fifteen, Sir," she said.

I laughed with her and told her to drop the 'sir' and call me by my Christian name. Then she up-dated me about her life since we'd last met. Her mother had died a year or two after that meeting in the street, and once she'd died Ann was able to start a new life.

She'd gone to night school to take a course in business studies, and there she'd met her husband-to-be. They fell in love, married and went into the hotel business together.

They had one daughter, an only child, and they couldn't have any more. But one thing was sure, her daughter was going to have the chance in life that Ann had missed out on. Before I left I persuaded her to come to the reunions her class had started and gave her the name of the organiser.

It was at subsequent reunions I learned of her daughter's success. She won a place at Cambridge and got a good degree in English. Later, she went into the theatre and became a well-known actress and producer in London and New York.

Teaching, it seems, unwittingly sows seeds which occasionally bear fruit generations later.

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