|Boarzell School in Sussex where Mr Dumbreck taught me English in 1961|
I had a terrific English teacher when I was 12 called Mr Dumbreck and were he here today he would strike a big red pencil through that word “terrific”, on the grounds of being a cliché, and furthermore terrific means inducing terror. Another rule for our English compositions was that no sentence was to begin either with the word “it” or the word “suddenly”.
I want to tell you about my swotty boy moment. One day the word “hectic” cropped up and Mr Dumbreck asked us for examples of how it might be used. Up I piped with “yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red”, a line from Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”, which we had recently been reading in class. Mr Dumbreck heaped praise on me for quoting both correctly and appositely, and even after all these years the memory calls up a glow of satisfaction. Lindsay by the bye tells me that at her school quoting Shelley wasn't considered comme il faut, and would quite likely have earnt me a whack on the back of the head with a pencil box.
|Mr Dumbreck and the Fifth Form room. The events related here took place in the Sixth Form room next door, but no photo is available. |
All photos courtesy of Michael Salmony
Whenever I think of Mr Dumbreck the phrase “Ichabod, the glory is departed” comes to mind. It's an essay he read to us about a hat box festooned with luggage labels. You have to be as old as I am to remember what this meant. The hat box is sent away for a lock repair and when it comes back it's been steam cleaned, and the lovingly preserved collection of labels has vanished. I've gone looking for this essay, which turns out to be by Max Beerbohm, and after fifty-four years I've just read it again. I see the title is simply “Ichabod”, the phrase “the glory is departed” occuring only at the very end. I imagine Mr Dumbreck read us this verse from the Old Testament: “And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.” He was a brilliant teacher. He taught us art too. We weren't allowed erasers, and had to ask to borrow his bungy. This was occasionally permitted but normally he would claim to have lost it.
It's hard to say why I've started reminiscing about Mr Dumbreck. My age you will say. But I think I can trace it back four years when I read PD James's Death Comes to Pemberley and was startled to come across this sentence: “Suddenly Mrs Reynolds was with them.” Proof that PD James had not attended Mr Dumbreck’s lessons, and considering that she was writing a Jane Austen sequel, very bad; for Austen, though she used the word “suddenly” about 50 times in her novels, never once began a sentence with it. I know this because I have the internet. Mr Dumbreck knew it in his bones.
Finally, in a couple of hours we in Cork Astronomy Club will celebrate the centennial of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which prompts me to ponder the relativity of time. From leaving Boarzell in 1961, to 1972 the year my mother died and I moved to York, was 11 years, and appears to me like half a lifetime. From leaving York to now is nearly 11 years, and it seems like yesterday.
Note 1 : For a read-out of every sentence in which Jane Austen used the word “suddenly”, all you need is this website http://www.pemberley.com/etext/ and about eight seconds of your time. Charles Dickens had no such compunction by the way. I found the following instances in David Copperfield, and I suspect, had I continued searching, would have found many more:-
“Suddenly I came upon a pasteboard placard, beautifully written, which was lying on the desk …” Chap 5
“Suddenly Miss Murdstone gave such a scream that I all but dropped it.” Chap 8
“Suddenly there passed us ─ evidently following them ─ a young woman …” Chap 22
Note 2: The Biblical quotation is 1 Samuel 4:21 in King James version.