My best teacher

10th March 2006 at 00:00
Granny Jones wasn't like the others. He gave me faith that teachers could reach out and get to us without using punishment or sarcasm

Granny Jones or, more properly, John Paul Jones, was a maths teacher at my grammar school who taught me for nearly seven years. He was almost alone among the teachers in that he could command discipline in the classroom, but it was said that he had never handed out any lines or detentions. He achieved this miracle by being the kind of person pupils didn't want to offend. He treated us in a grown up way - more like a friend than a superior.

He would occasionally keep pupils back in class, but it was always done on a one-to-one basis, ostensibly for further tuition. So we always saw him as someone more interested in helping us than punishing us.

I only once saw him give a punishment out. He said it hurt him deeply to have to do it, and I believed him. He saw it as a personal failing that he had to give out a detention, whereas in every other lesson there were detentions flying left, right and centre.

The other teachers were an aggressive lot, but it was not without provocation. Many of them were great characters and good teachers, who no doubt deserved our respect, but some of the boys were mercilessly cruel to them if they saw an opportunity for a good jape. And we would all fall into line with the jokers if the jape was a good one.

One teacher had a breakdown because of how he was treated. I'll never forget the history lesson when he just stopped and dried up. Nothing had been said, but he was cracking up; he just stared at the wall. We all started laughing nervously and suddenly he swept out of the room and didn't come back.

The other teachers gave as good as they got: we were whipped with Bunsen burner rubber tubing, hit with slippers and given the cane. Most of the time I stayed out of trouble, but once, when I was in the lower sixth form, the deputy headmaster wanted to cane me. I've forgotten what it was for, but I refused to be caned. I said, "Sorry, but I simply won't let you." So he invited me to leave the school instead and I went to art college.

But Granny Jones wasn't like that at all. He gave me faith that teachers could reach out and get to us without using punishment, being arrogant or sarcastic.

I don't know why he was called "Granny". Most teachers had nicknames based either on the subject they taught or their physical appearance. There was one fat, bald geography teacher, for example, called Globe, but I could never work out whether it was because of the subject or his shining head.

When I started playing music at the age of 17 and joined a band, none of us could afford to buy amps or guitars so we bought the equipment on hire purchase and Granny Jones offered to act as guarantor on the paperwork. He didn't tell our parents; if mine had known they would have gone nuts. He might even have got the sack over it, so he was taking quite a risk.

I think he got a lot of satisfaction out of staying in touch with us and helping us after school. He briefly became a sort of manager for our band.

He got us a few gigs in pubs and working men's clubs, even though we were playing music that was entirely unsuitable for those venues. Then after a year he said it was time for him to bow out. We needed a manager who could take us to play Manchester, Bolton and Blackburn, not just Blackpool.

We stayed in touch on and off over the years, but not as much as I would have liked. He helped me span a difficult transition from school to adult life and I know it would have meant a great deal to him if we had contacted him in a meaningful way during his final years. I often thought of doing that, but it seemed there would always be tomorrow. Then when he died it was too late, which saddened me.


1947 Born in Dunfermline, Scotland

1953 Attends Roseburn primary in Edinburgh

1959 Moves to Blackpool and attends Blackpool grammar school

1964 Attends Blackpool art school

1968 Forms progressive rock group Jethro Tull. Band makes live debut at London's Marquee club and releases This Was, first of 30 albums, including Aqualung, Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play

1983 First solo album, Walk into the Light, released, followed by Divinities, a collection of flute instrumentals (1995), the acoustic The Secret Language of Birds (2000) and Rupi's Dance (2003)

2006 Jethro Tull tours UK and Europe from March (www.j-tull.comtourdates)

Ian Anderson, musician and founder of Jethro Tull, was talking to Mark Anstead

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