A student takes notes. Photo: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images
Show Hide image

I was 13 when my English teacher asked me to go camping. I thought it was because he loved my poetry

Mr Greenaway pursued me and another girl in the class and I felt almost literary. Then my mum went and ruined everything.

Blurred lines. That was the Seventies, wasn’t it? Everything all hung out and no one minded. It was, we were told, OK to perv over 13-year-olds, especially the ones in school uniform. No one quite knew what was wrong or what was right. Except it just wasn’t like that where I lived.

I’d annoyed everyone by passing the eleven-plus. The headmaster of my primary school shouted at me in his study because I was selling rude drawings of him in the playground with the inscription “There was an old man from Australia who painted his bum like a dahlia” written underneath. This, I explained, was “a newspaper”. I was clearly ahead of my time and he clearly did not like me.

“What is the plural of sheep?” he yelled.

“Sheeps, sir.”

On this basis he had deduced I would be going to the local rubbish school. When it turned out that I’d passed the stupid test, my mum was furious. We simply could not afford the uniform, so we had to get a special grant.

It was there that a red-haired English teacher set eyes on me. He encouraged us to write poetry. I produced long, intense verses about the end of the world, which I imagined was full of huge crevices in which people died “like ants”. He called me The Infanta and told me that I reminded him of a painting I’d never seen.

The best thing about him was that he just didn’t care. He was a rebel. He gave us form points if we rolled a six on the dice. Rules were there for the breaking.

But Mr Greenaway seemed unaware of what we were actually reading. My friend had found How to Be a Sensual Woman under her dad’s bed and we studied these techniques intensely even though officially we hated boys. We were frankly mortified by the talk of Linda Lovelace, because even in Suffolk we had an inkling that the clitoris was not located near the larynx.

Nonetheless Mr Greenaway pursued me and another girl in the class and I felt almost literary. He was so incredibly ancient, maybe even 35, that I convinced myself that only he could see what my doom-laden poetry really meant.

When he gave me a flowery note asking me to go camping with him for the weekend, I took it home and gave it to my mum excitedly.

“He loves my poetry!”

The next thing I knew, my mother was all hairspray and lipstick and tight skirt, barging into the school with me in tow.

She dragged Mr Greenaway out of the staff room and pushed him up against the wall. She was taller than him in her best stilettos.

“If you want to interfere with her,” she said, close to his face, “you have to interfere with me first. Do you understand?”

I hated my mum. She always had to ruin everything. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 13 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Assad vs Isis

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496