When I was at Priory Hall, Kenilworth High School, from 1983 to 1987 there were a lot of bad teachers. I don’t mean one or two, or even a few but A LOT.
The attitude of most of the staff, including the Head and Deputy Head was as if they were in a factory, but one with kids aged 12 to 16 instead of heavy machinery.
Arrive, clock in, hand out a few bits of homework, dish out a few detentions, hide in the staff room as long as possible, fuck off home.
A weird anomaly of the early 80s in Warwickshire was that there was no 1st year. You went straight into 2nd year at year at 16. I’ve since found out that this was due to a chronic lack of pupils in Primary school so to save having to lay off staff they simply got us to stay an extra year in the world of shorts and “playtime”.
Retrospectively this was a good thing as it meant only 4 years in the festering shit hole that was
, instead of the 5 you had
before, and have again now. Kenilworth
But I digress.
Of all the teachers in this vile dump, only one shone out. His name was Mr Hardy and he taught English. I’m not going to lie and say that he was Gandhi reincarnate, or that he stayed behind after school to teach dyslexic kids to read. He didn’t. But what he DID do was treat us as people, with respect and a smile and was genuinely a lovely bloke.
He always seemed comfortable having a chat and never adopted that irritating “I’m in charge so can talk down to you or even insult you” crap that a lot of the wankers on staff did if you tried to engage them in a proper discussion.
Back then, corporal punishment was legal and quite a few of the little shits utilised it to the full (particularly that fat cunt with the moustache Mr Jenkins, who taught Games). Mr Hardy never hit me and I never heard of him even threatening to hit anyone else.
Staff were tolerated at best at
. No one liked them but
dislike came in varying levels from “indifference” to “loathing.” Mr Hardy
earned everyone’s respect one morning when he took Assembly and did a pastiche
to the Hovis ads (in flat cap, scarf and faux Kenilworth
accent) that were on TV in the 70s and 80s.
As we walked back to our classrooms I heard more than one kid say “well, he’s got guts, you’ve got to give him that!”
He took my English oral exam for O’Level English and when I bumped into him a month later in town I asked him if I’d passed. He wasn’t supposed to tell me but he simply said “of course. You got an A if I remember.”
When I left
I hated the memories this
place had given me. The bullying, the stupidity of staff, the cretinous
adherence to outdated rules that simply perpetuated cycles of victimisation and
brutality. But there were one or two happy thoughts thrown in. One was that Mr
Hardy had treated me decently. He hadn't struck me, sneered at me or acted like
a cunt just because he was a teacher and I was a pupil. He had in fact been
decent, and this meant a lot to me. More so because he clearly hadn't tried or
put on an effort for this, it was just how he was. Kenilworth
I had counselling about my experiences at Priory Hall. I was angry and bitter about the way I’d been treated when I was there. I used to fantasise about killing the staff and some of my fellow pupils. But one bloke I never hated was Mr Hardy. He’d always been decent and there was no ill thought from me to him.
In 2001 I walked into a charity shop in Leamington Spa and he was working in it. He looked exactly the same except his hair had gone completely white.
“Oh, been a long time since someone’s called me that. It’s Lance isn’t it?”
I had gone into the shop to see if I could find some Winnie the Pooh toys for my friend’s little girl as a present. We chatted for a while and shook hands. An hour later my home phone rang. It was Mr Hardy.
“Hello Lance, I found a couple of Winnie and Tigger toys out the back. Do you want them?”
“Errr…I didn’t give you my phone number!”
“I looked it up in the phone book, you told me what road you live on, remember?”
Every time I saw him after that we stopped and had a chat. He was in charge of pricing and evaluating books for the various charity shops he worked in so was always busy. I always called him “Mr Hardy” and one day he said:
“You don’t have to call me that. It’s David.”
“I never knew your name was David until just then. It’s a mark of respect. You’re the only teacher I had that I never wanted to set on fire.”
“Hmmm…sure there’s a compliment in there somewhere.”
I moved out of
Leamington in 2002 and
returned in 2011. While walking past the bus stop outside Tesco on The Parade,
I saw him waiting for the number 17.
He found out I’d had a book published and said he’d buy an autographed copy from Warwick Books where I’d recently done a signing. A few months later I got an answer phone message that said.
“Hello Lance, it’s David Hardy. I spilled a glass of red wine all over my signed copy of Stab Proof Scarecows. Could you meet me for a coffee today and sign my new one for me?”
I traded him the new one for the one that was now a shade of pink, and he’d gone over the book with 2 marker pens. A yellow one for “horrible punctuation errors and atrocious grammar” and green for bits that had made him laugh (e.g. “any police officer who embraces the world of Race & Diversity will find their career rocketing like the street cred of the average Chav after receiving their first ASBO!”)
When my 2nd book, THE CATASTROPHE OF THE EMERALDQUEEN came out, I gave him another copy and put him in the Acknowledgments section. It said “to Mr Hardy my former English teacher. The only good teacher in a very bad school.”
He played it down and even seemed embarrassed but promised to read the book and give me feedback.
January 2013 my phone rang. Thinking it was work asking me to come
in early, I ignored it. When I listened to the answer phone message it was Mike
Hardy, Mr Hardy’s brother. He said Mr Hardy was dead. He’d died the previous
Monday in Warwick hospital.
I cried for a little while then called him back. He lifted my spirits when he said “David always spoke very highly of you, well apart from your punctuation!”
We had a chat and remembered his brother as a wonderful man and an inspirational teacher. Mike said to me:
“He kept a journal most of his life. His last entry was just before he died. It simply said ‘I’m finished. Love to all. Forgive me and goodbye'.”