Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Get out your Richards!"

Now and again someone asks me why it is that I am a teacher rather than a full-time writer. There are all sorts of reasons, of course, but one easy answer is that three out of my four grandparents-by-blood were teachers (the fourth, my beloved English grandmother, did a certificate in social work at the London School of Economics at a time when that was quite unusual).

(My mother is a teacher, too - I grew up in a school, even more than most people do!)

My father's parents met at the teacher training college in Glasgow and both specialized in English (British!) literature, and my grandfather went on to become the headmaster of several different high schools (here, by the way, you can see two of his paintings of the town he retired in, North Berwick!).

My English grandfather never understood how my Scottish grandfather could live within walking distance of one of Britain's best golf courses and yet remain thoroughly immune to the charms of the green! I was less close to him than I was to my Scottish grandfather (or, indeed, than I am to the very dear adopted grandfather who is my regular theatergoing companion in New York!), but we had many points of interest in common.

The English grandparents moved to a smaller (but not much smaller!) house a few years before they both died, which entailed some massive cleaning out of the extraordinary house they had lived in for many years (I cannot find a good picture online, though I know I found one once of it standing in solitary splendor of a gothically Victorian kind before the other houses were built on that road in the later nineteenth century, but if you scroll down to the bottom right-hand picture on this site, you will find 16 Broadlands Road - it is the house that, while I stood on a stepladder next to my mother handing her down countless mysterious and useless and yet non-throw-away-able things from a high shelf in the pantry, caused me to utter the most heartfelt words ever heard from my mouth: "I never want to live in a house, I only want to live in an apartment!")

It pained my grandfather to get rid of anything at all, though he steeled himself and managed to part with a great mass of possessions. One thing he was very happy to give to me was a pair of notebooks from his undergraduate years. They contained (in his characteristically illegible writing) his notes on English political thought during the American and French Revolutions, including many pages on my particular favorite Edmund Burke.

(Here was the Guardian obituary by his dear friend Richard Robbins; here was my Uncle Patrick's for the Independent.)

I have saved the best for last: a very nice back-garden picture, taken probably c. 2000 (actually I have no idea!), of me and Granny and Gramp.


  1. A very large apartment would hold as much as a house....

  2. What a wonderful picture! All of you are grinning. -- CAAF