The Cavern revisited

Innes Murchie

In need of a boost? Then go back to the place which first inspired you to teach, writes Innes Murchie

As I stood in the dusty sunlight in the narrow little street, I wondered how best to describe what I was feeling. Perhaps Philip Larkin's phrase "awkward reverence" expresses it best.

My holiday wanderings had taken me to Liverpool, a city new to me, where I found myself eventually in that warren of little streets which saw much of the birth of the Mersey sound in the Sixties. Now I stood before a doorway bearing above it the legend "The Cavern", the club where the Beatles first came to prominence.

The original club is long gone, its site now a car park a few yards further up the street, and the present Cavern a careful reconstruction. But this was the very street and, reconstruction or not, the door exudes a powerful magic. The spell took me back 30-odd years to the days of mop top hairstyles, Chelsea boots, button-down collars and Pounds 16 made-to-measure suits from Burtons, all to the beat of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Did I look a little pathetic as I stood there, a man of an age to know better? If so, I didn't care. I was enjoying the sensation of being young again.

I was back in a time when everything seemed possible. The old order was being swept away: generations of prejudice, privilege, inequity and social injustice were to be replaced by a new social order springing from youthful enthusiasm fuelled by a new aesthetic which found its anthems in the Merseyside beat. The common man was at long last to come into his own. Education was the key to all this as universities expanded to take in more working-class boys and girls, and comprehensive schools were established.

The music of the Beatles seemed at the heart of it all. They weren't philosophers or social reformers but they represented our dreams of this marvellous new world that was just round the corner.

I became a teacher, eager to play my part in this glorious revolution at whose heart was the ideal of a grammar-school education for all.

Well, it hasn't all come to pass as we hoped - not yet anyway. And why not? Perhaps we allowed ourselves to be diverted from our role as educators by grandiose notions of the school as a crucible for social change. Perhaps pupils' happiness and social development took precedence over the rather more rigorous demands of their intellectual development. Perhaps we lost sight of the fact that it is education which is important above all else.

But you would expect a few wrong turnings and blind alleys on the road to Utopia. The race between ignorance and education for the future of civilisation is still on. And so, reminded of that old fervour, I'm back again in the classroom, the cradle of all our tomorrows, where there are frontiers still to be forged and a world yet to win.

If during the session you feel browned off or burnt out, take a little time to revisit physically or spiritually the place that inspired you to become a teacher in the first place. The Cavern did it for me. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

Innes Murchie is principal teacher of guidance at Bridge of Don Academy, Aberdeen

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