Our poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, writes poems that must be blessings for schoolteachers, because almost every line has a splinter of brilliance in it, and even the most resistant pupil would notice a fragment of language jumping into life. Her poem called Mrs Midas evokes the difficulties for a wife whose husband turns things to gold when he touches them. They can’t sleep together, so she puts him in the spare room, which he turns into “the tomb of Tutankhamun”. What young mind would not be captured by an idea as dazzling as that? I know, the young mind of the boy at the back of the class who has just set fire to his desk. He’s a kind of Midas himself, but whatever he touches turns to chaos. It’s always rude to be optimistic on behalf of other people, and the teacher is facing difficulties every day that leave Mrs Midas looking genuinely well off, instead of just weighed down by useless wealth.
At our weatherboard one-room infants’ school in the bush, the memorably severe Miss Cashman had to get us to safety when the bushfire came, as it did every year, invariably threatening to burn down the building. She had a gift for discipline but no gift for tact. She gave me a note for my mother, saying that I didn’t have to come to school the next day because it had been largely destroyed by fire. My mother, once she had been assured that I had not been in danger, recovered in a matter of hours.