373 Enfield Grammar School, part 3

Looking back at Part 2 of these divagations, I can see that there are gaps in my description of the layout of the Grammar School building, but for the life of me I cannot work out what is vaguely remembered, what existed only in recurring dreams from much later in life, and what may relate to some other completely different building. Maybe one day some photographs of the inside of the building will come to light and finally settle my doubts.

So I’ll return to the brief but fruitful correspondence with David Richardson and the memories that this stirred up; and I’ll try to do it subject by subject, though I may stray a little along the way. He and I were in different subject streams, but the one subject that everyone studied was:

English. Unlike the foreign languages, English was taught as two subjects, Language and Literature; though Language, I think, dropped out for the last two (A-level) years.

I really enjoyed Language. By that stage we had got past the traumas of learning spelling and had progressed to the more rewarding study of grammar (it was, after all, a Grammar School); parts of speech, sentence structure, verb conjugations and suchlike. On reflection this had about it the kind of satisfying objectivity that I also enjoyed in Maths and Chemistry. The inevitability of “H2 + O = water” somehow matched the neatness of “subject + verb + object = sentence”. The study of parsing – does anyone still do that? – taught me the importance of logical word order and coherent sentence structure, something rather lost in an age of 140-character online blurts.

By contrast I can hardly remember anything about our literary studies. Naturally Shakespeare figured largely, and one of our O-level set books was Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey; but I’m sure that most of my knowledge of English literature was gained in later years. We did no Chaucer at school, and, more surprisingly, no Dickens. I didn’t discover Thomas Hardy until at least 30 years later … but I am almost trespassing on page 800 (parts 1-3) so I shall desist and turn to the remarkable men who taught us English.

Two of them also taught other subjects. One was a man called Brentini; in addition to English, he taught Latin, enthusiastically and very well. Odd remarks suggested he had some detailed knowledge of Esperanto. He had a way of speaking that seemed somehow ironic, as if he were sharing a joke with you. We all liked him.

He was quite an interesting character, as both David Richardson and I recalled. To keep things tidy David’s comments are in italics. For example:

<I remember a Mr Brentini with a kind of perplexed fondness. I never had him as a teacher (he was something to do with the arts stream). His main extra-curricular interest was the school play, which was not for me. But he was also interested in athletics, as was I. (Sports Day, School Teams etc.) But God has not put a less athletic specimen on the planet! He was obese, with the kind of physical form that undulated gently as he walked. I remember his trying to teach me how to throw the discus, and the sight of what I think Shakespeare may have called a mountain of flesh, trying to spin in a small discus circle, was comical to the point of being hilarious.>

“I never thought of him as overweight at the time, but thinking back I have to say you are right. He taught Latin and, surprisingly, English. Although the name seemed Italian his accent was more German. You did well to find someone at EGS that actually wanted to teach athletic skills rather than just keep us physically active for an hour or so.

His departure was strange. One term we returned from our holiday break and he just wasn’t there. We were told he had returned to his native country. Despite being given an address to contact him (I think by one of the English teachers, so Taylor or Marshall) we heard nothing more from or about him.”

I never knew how he came to be in England; perhaps it was political asylum. Things said after his departure make me wonder if he was extradited.

The next few lines will seem off-topic, but bear with me; I was one of a group of friends, mostly ex-Merryhills, who called ourselves the Bishbirds. I’ve no idea why. For quite some time we produced, just for our own entertainment, a hand-written humorous “magazine” called the Weekly Bish. Brentini showed an interest in this so we included him in the circulation. Of course this was before the days of cheap photocopying, so there was only one copy. After Brentini left, having received an address, we wanted to send him the back numbers of the Bish as a memento, so editor Richard Bauckham parcelled them up and sent them off; and so they were lost for ever.

The other versatile English teacher was a man called Taylor; and the third, in fact senior, English teacher was a flamboyant character known to all as Doc Marshall. They will appear in Part 4.

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