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Thursday 2 October 2008

Mr McTavish

Dancing on the table, blue
patent leather shoes, plus fours.
The same old jig - a touch
of Ireland in his veins, perhaps.

End-blown, the flute
(he'd have us know), the best
for spelling - but the fancy dress
was to appease the gods of music.

Our place to dance around the table.
We tried, but lacked the needed rhythm -
and the appetite. Perhaps
if we'd worn patents or plus fours...

Who knows? Mourners with no funeral,
we were; a cortège with no coffin.
But when the music stopped abruptly -
as it would, the flute flung out

on a long arm's end, its mouthpiece
drooling his saliva
like a baleful dog, and staring
straight at one of us -

we'd shuffle into statue mode,
silent and preoccupied, like
old folk counting, waiting for
the thunder after lightning. Then:

Spell chrysanthemum! he'd roar.
Or brontosaurus! or bronchitis!.
If you were chosen and could spell
your given word spot on (no

hesitation) you could go, walk out,
be early home for tea. Bronchitis
was my favourite. And his. For me,
my annual enemy, I knew it well;

for him, First rate banana skin -
a simple word to catch most folk
He would laugh at me:
I dinna ken anither lad

get bronchitis with sich ease!

One day, my first back after illness,
he had a cake to welcome me -
and that with war-time rationing!

For him, I had a doctor's note:
I'd chronic bronchiectasis,
was not to take part in P.T..
He read it through a few times while

I waited for the classroom to catch fire.
But no, he smiled, then laughed out loud:
We ken you spell bronchitis lad, spot on -
but fecks, your doctor canna!


Marion McCready said...

Lol! I like your Scottish accent.

Lucy said...

Did you really have such a teacher?! The blue patent shoes and plus-fours sound astonishing, what an amazing place your childhood was!

The last post was interesting too; I often think of the period you speak of as one quite preoccupied with style; it's been said for example that existentialism was more of a style than a serious philosophy for most of its followers - but I suppose they would have denied this as seeming to belittle their earnestness...

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this and loved the ending. I don't know whether you check comments that are posted late, but I've also responded to your previous two postings.

Dave King said...


Dave King said...


Yes there was such a teacher. I can't actually recall his name, but he was a Scottish gentleman and McTavish seemed to me to fit him very well. The majority of the regular teachers had been called up for the war effort. Mr McTavish, I think, did a passable job, mainly on the strength of his great passion for everything, though I don't know how he would have survived today's Ofsted inspectors - or perhaps they would not have survived him! To the best of my memory he was liked by the pupils - I certainly liked him.

I had not heard the remark about existentialism being more a matter of style, but I certainly think I can see what it is driving at. Thanks for that.

Dave King said...

Welcome and many thanks for that. Yes I do check back - though I have been known to overlook the odd one for some time!
I shall certainly check them

The Weaver of Grass said...

Dave. I absolutely love this poem - you have captured the spirit of one of the old school of teachers who really inspired and who one remembers in such detail. If there was any good to come out of the war it was the number of crusty old teachers who were called back - I had one toom Miss Kirkbride - so you've also achieved making me recall her. I just love every word of it!

Dave King said...

Weaver of Grass

Yes, we had a rare assortment of teachers back then, some a bit dodgy, even by war time standards, but most had something real and vital to offer. Thanks for the feedback.

Conda Douglas said...

This is a fun poem, fun to read--was it fun to write?

Loved the teacher--evoked so many memories of my grade school teachers--mostly good, for the ones with passion were good teachers, whatever they taught us!

Dave King said...


yes, it was fun to write. I do enjoy writing about aspects of my childhood. I tend not to see them as autobiography - which they are, for I stick as faithfully to my memories as I can - but more as social comment, an implied comparison of then with now. Writing the poem about being ill at the age of five,for instance, I was interested in the fact that a doctor not only made house calls (!) but had the time to sit on a child's bed for ages swapping stamps with him.

Anonymous said...

This works its way towards the punchline wonderfully well, Dave. A beguiling memoir.

Dave King said...


Thanks for that.

Jim Murdoch said...

A great character study and a good sense of place. I wonder if the teachers the youngsters have these days are half as colourful as the ones we grew up with?

Acornmoon said...

A wonderful poem, your teacher suggests a cross between a Scottish version of Seamus Heaney and Father Ted!

Dave King said...

Thanks for that. No, I can assure you that they are not. Those that could be, are not allowed to be.

Dave King said...


Thanks for calling by, and welcome.
And that is a wonderful image. I would never have thought of it, but yes, I do see what you mean.

Andy Sewina said...

Bang on Dave! I loved reading this, the cake, the sick note and the scottish accent brilliant!

Dave King said...

Sweet Talking Guy
Thanks for that - you say the nicest things!