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Heaven knows I'm not so miserable now

A returning teacher sings the praises of a boyhood friend who helped him get back on his feet

Steve and I go back 25 years. We lived on the same side of the same road, played the same Buddy Holly LPs and quoted the same Gene Vincent lines as we played Space Invaders and drank Sam Smith's Old Brewery at 50p a pint.

We got duff jobs. Then, at 24, he sat a theology degree and, at 30, I followed with English. Two working-class secondary cast-offs with honours each.

Steve became a teacher. He's head of year now. And head of department. I managed three years' work after my secondary PGCE before being struck down with clinical depression. It wasn't stress, it was depression - the same debilitating cancer of the mind that hit me as a barber and, later, as a nurse. Days were hell. Nights no better. This went on for a year, until my health authority, doctor and I decided to change the scenery. I resigned.

I thought I'd go back to my old jobs. But months off work followed one another all last year. Steve was there for me. Almost every day the phone rang. He dealt with me the best way: by laughing. We joked about who'd get the New Order CDs when I hanged myself. Would we have Johnny Burnette at the funeral or The Smiths? Pie and peas or a cauldron of curry? But I survived and, last month, my doctor and I agreed I'd try to ease myself back into the job I love, and Steve seems born for. Last Wednesday morning the mobile buzzed. I was on the school run, unshaven, and in jeans and a football top. "Get yersen in here!" he implored, York dialect at its rawest. So I did.

He'd taken the biggest chance of his life and recommended me to his head for supply. No time to refuse; no space to worry. Fourteen months out of the classroom and soon I'd be "Sir" with a register and a fistful of A4.

The second and third days, I dressed as a teacher ought: Gap chinos and silk tie. The kids didn't recognise me as the "builder" who'd been in the day before and written learning objectives on the whiteboard. By Friday, I'd completed my first three days alone in a classroom in more than a year.

Steve popped in to check on me. A friend and a professional - he's the teacher you dream of having and the pal you cannot believe you deserve.

He marched me into Burton's and bought me a suit. And, later, a coffee. Not only did he want to help me back on to the horse, he was going to watch me gallop.

It's early days still. I'm not out of the woods, although I'm getting better. Without this man, I'd not have had half the chance I have. He's a credit to himself, his colleagues, and the students who are lucky enough to be taught by him five days a week.

The writer teaches in Wakefield

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