07 February 2019, The Tablet

The teacher who inspired me

The Tablet Education

The teacher who inspired me

By the time I was eight I had learned to dislike authority figures. They said children should be seen and not heard. I preferred not to be seen either. But it was still hard to escape humiliation at the hands of the grown-ups.

When I arrived at the vast Lycée Français in London, I had been given a boy’s PE uniform. As my punishment for this parental oversight, I was required to change with the boys. I didn’t complain. I understood grown-ups had to be humoured, even if it was apparent that some of them were very stupid.

There was, for example, the nun who was giving me instruction for my First Communion. I asked her how it was we were descended from monkeys and yet made in God’s image and likeness. She told me, “If you believe that, you will go to hell.” This absurd non sequitur didn’t make me an atheist. I had already met one of those: he had asked how I knew the Bible hadn’t been written by one very clever man. I wanted to say, “because I’m assuming someone in the last 2,000 years might have noticed”, but it was safer to appear amazed at his wisdom.

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