Sunday, 13 January 2013

Ode to Mr Hardy (1939 - 2013)


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 12 until 5th 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 Kenilworth School, instead of the 5 you had before, and have again now.

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 Kenilworth School. 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 Yorkshire 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 Kenilworth School 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.

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.

“Mr Hardy!”

“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.

“Mr Hardy!!!”

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.

On Saturday 12th 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'.”

Awesome to the end.



10 comments:

  1. I know what you mean. I'm much older than you and grew up in the 50s (see! no apostrophe) and hated many (most) of the teachers at one of the last grammar schools in London at the time. (The Roan School for Boys). However, there were just one or two who I remember with affection and who actually TAUGHT me (as opposed to forced me to learn). The are all obviously and probably dead now but I regret that I didn't get/keep in touch. Wisdom comes with age, but often too late to be of any use.

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  2. Lance, first time poster. Very sorry to hear about the passing of Mr Hardy. Its obvious he meant a great deal to you. Most people always remember one teacher for being decent to them when maybe others were less so. My 'Mr Hardy' was a chap called Mr Stokes. I have not seen him for about 20 years but think of him often and what became of him. I nay never know. Atleast you have a little closure in that regards.
    All the best ..... ;-)

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  3. Hi Lance, I found you by accident as I was googling David Hardy's name, having heard that he had died. He was also one of the few teachers that I remember with affection, having felt similarly constrained by senseless rules in my time at KGS (10 years before you). He was happy for me to write about anything I liked rather than the set homework. A gentle and decent man who I met from time to time when back in Leamington and who encouraged me to continue writing. Regards, A

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  4. Omg he was a true genuine man loved David alot and he was always so happy and singing and whistling.I have just found out he has passed away and im in shock i cant beleive it.He loved his books and he loved his work never ever forget him.he was fantastic.

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  5. Would just like to say it was lovely to read your comments re David Hardy. I have known him a number of years through his work for charity shops. He would always greet me with a kind comment and we would have a lively chap. I will miss his smiling face very much.

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  6. Spot on, Lance. Have just heard of Mr Hardy's death and found this blog. I was at Priory until 1983 and I share your sentiments. We are not alone - all my friends from school have always spoken highly of him as a kind man and inspiring teacher. I am now a journalist and it was Mr Hardy who encouraged me with my writing. I am amazed there is no tribute in the local press to someone who gave so much to his community. I intend to correct this. Please phone me on 07881474985

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  7. R.I.P David Hardy!! I will always remember you fondly. I my opinion God wanted all men to be like you. So Kind and gentile, generous and modest. God Bless you. Tim

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  8. Nice article Lance. Mr Hardy was by far the stand out teacher for me (71-76) as well. I was very sad to hear he had died last year and would loved to have caught up with him as you did.
    It's a shame that your views of the school are otherwise negative, I must have been very lucky to go to KGS rather than KS...it was a great school. I don't recall any bullying to speak of and I only ever wanted to knee a few teachers in the bollocks rather than set fire to any.

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  9. I had a dream about Mr Hardy last night, he was showing me around an amazing school he was teaching at. When I awoke I immediately googled him only to find he had passed on - perhaps to the school I dreamt of.
    I always thought his name was Jim, he always signed my report books as JD Hardy). We adored him. He was my form master and English teacher at KGS until I sadly left in year 3. He wore a black and white checked jacket with leather elbow patches which were not fashionable in those days - mid 60's. He sort of bounced into the class room and whenever he could not find the board rubber he used his black gown. Now all these years later the only exercise book I have kept as a treasured remembrance of those times is the one for English with his corrections still marked all over it - a testament to how much he was loved.

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  10. He was a nice chap. There were a couple of nice teachers there. I do remember the tosser woodwork teacher, snarly little shit wolstenholm or something like that. The head was a little man, thought he was hitler. The p.e teachers were hilarious, they had a punch up at morning assembly once. Miss metcalfe used to wear slinky dresses, unsuitable for school entirely. One lesson, paul thompson jabbed my arm and said, look at her....and the sun shone through the window, through her dress, to reveal that she was pantless. We could see her pubes. What a tart. I started at that shit hole in 1981. I had left st nicholas primary where the english teacher molly gibbons had told her son mark to tell me I was adopted. I was 6 at the time. The bitch never was punished for that. Hope she dies in pain.

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