They've come a long way, ying tong, ying tong

15th August 2008 at 01:00

Once again, a visit to the town where I used to teach managed to remind me that I might enjoy what I do now - but "look what you've given up".

As my wife and I walked into the slightly posher bit of the Elphinstone Hotel, I recognised two young men sitting at the next table. Let's call these former pupils M and J. I stupidly asked them if they were on holiday from university. Stupidly, because if I'd stopped to think, I'd have worked out that they'd been in fourth year more than 10 years ago and would now be in their mid-20s. In my mind, they do not grow old as those who are left to teach the next bunch grow old.

I trust that Kathleen and I getting into conversation with them didn't spoil their reunion too much. J is finishing his training as an actuary, a career he had mapped out for himself from S5 or earlier. He was always going to make it, probably the brightest student I have ever taught. J endeared himself to me by, among other traits, liking old radio comedy and being as badly co- ordinated as I was. Am. I hope he won't mind me saying that.

I hope, too, that M won't mind me saying that he wasn't an exceptional physicist. I took over his class mid-way through fourth year. New to the school and not realising that S4b physics contained an uncharacteristically large number of the Awkward Squad, it took me until S5 to find out who the treasures were. Prior to that, I was too busy firefighting.

Musically talented, M now does the sound effects and incidental music for audio versions of Doctor Who and the like. He has Peter Gabriel's home phone number.

Two young men following careers they enjoy. One, cleverer than those who taught him, knew exactly what he wanted to do and headed straight there. The other took a more meandering path towards a job neither he nor his teachers realised existed when he was 16. It made me wonder if the most important thing I ever did for these two fellows was to talk about the Goon Show in those precious two minutes at the end of a lesson before the bell sounds.

Gregor Steele was once treated to a swig of Buckfast Tonic Wine by a former pupil.

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