A few weeks ago, someone asked me when was the first time I felt shame.
This was a tough question, partly because I have probably forgotten the very first time, and partly because it means I have to admit to something that is, by definition, uncomfortable. But then that is the whole point of writing something autobiographical – you have to put in the bad stuff about yourself as well as the good (though, for some reason, that rule only seems to apply to people who are not politicians).
Then I remembered something that happened when I was at junior school. Which was great, I could answer the question. But then I realised that, in order for that to make sense, I first had to mention Miss Bailey.
Miss Bailey was one of my school teachers at Telford Middle School in Leamington Spa. She was unremittingly horrendous. Foul tempered and grossly overweight, she was the one teacher that no pupil ever had a good word for. For most of my time at that school, she didn’t have a class of her own, she lurked in the science lab cum craftwork building that we called The Unit, appearing only to fill in for other teachers and yell at pupils until they blubbed.
Then, in my final year, they gave her a class. I missed the start of that year as I was recovering from an operation, but I spent the time before school started being less concerned at my recovery and more at the possibility that I might be lumbered with HER for a whole year. The relief when Helen Whitehouse stopped by my house with the message that I was in a different class altogether was incredible.
One of my clearest memories of Miss Bailey, though, is the time that she gave us sex education lessons. Most of us went away none the wiser as to the facts of life. We couldn’t believe that any of these things could ever involve a person like that, and wondered why the school could not have picked someone more credible to teach us that subject.
Miss Bailey left the school at the end of that year. I am sure that she had a very successful career, mellowed a lot and had children of her own. She was, after all, probably no more than 30 at the time. But I don’t think that anyone she taught at Telford will remember her with any great fondness