4. Dickie Dance
The last time I saw him was on the platform at Wolverhampton Low Level Station. It was in 1959 as I got onto a train to go back to Crookham barracks after my first 48-hour leave. Perhaps he recognised me, even in my uniform. Perhaps I should have made myself known to him. But I was too shy or grown-up or something so we did not speak.
I had never thanked him and I still live with that. For, of all the masters at The School, he was the only one who showed kindness. E. H. “Dickie” Dance taught, by his example, that it was possible to rise above an uncaring environment and to show humanity.
He was our Form Master inLower IIIB. He made no fuss about his religious beliefs, though we knew he was a church-goer. His two main subjects were History and English and he had written almost-non-academic history books. These were used as text books at The School.
His knowledge of the history about which he wrote was not gleaned from dusty tomes, either. Each year, during the Summer holidays, he walked sections of Offa’s Dyke, learning his stuff from observation.
And he would read stuff to us which, I am certain now, was not part of the set school-curriculum. Among other pieces, I learned every word of “The Song of the Wandering Aengus” by Oscar Wilde without ever having read it or having to recite it, for instance. (And I passed on and taught those marvellous verses to our daughter, Liz, when she was quite young.)
Once – and I am sure it was not part of his duties – he took me on one side and talked with me. I’m sure he had noticed, and cared about, my rotten feelings about school life.
“I’d like to help if I can, Stevenson,” he began. “I know you’re not enjoying it here. But it’s a good school, you know.”
“Yes, sir.” I was used to the formalities of the time, especially the ones perpetuated at The School.
“Er . . . “ he tried to find the right approach. “What do your parents do?”
“They tell me I should do better, sir.”
“Yes, I’m sure they do. But what work do they do?”
Dad was a brewery drayman and Mom a school cleaner.
“Well, that’s honest work. Are you happy at home?”
He tried hard, but I gave nothing away. I was smoothly happy at home, and would rather have been there than anywhere else – especially school. I had not learned that those who performed “menial jobs” were the lower end of the social scale, so Mom and Dad were as good as anybody. I suspect Dickie had Left-of-Centre leanings and disliked the class-system. I look back on him as the epitome of a Christian-Socialist.
When I left school, there were only two subjects in which I had any interest and, by which, I have earned a few bob from time to time. They were and still are History and English!
And I wish that I had told the kindly Dickie Dance that I was grateful for his efforts to give me some sort of view of decent behaviour.
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