One of my best teachers in school was the rather eccentric man who taught classical civilisation and ancient history. Why at GCSE it was named classical civilisation and at A-level it was called ancient history I have no idea.
This story happens inside one of those classical civilisation lessons.
Noph and I sat together, on the right-hand aisle, maybe three rows back from the front of the classroom. In most lessons we’d be seated girl-boy or by alphabetical order, but in classical civilisation we could sit where we liked.
I’d say that the classes where I sat beside Noph (sociology, maths, physics, chemistry) were the same subjects as I would discuss outside of the classroom and therefore the subjects in which I was most likely to develop a natural interest. Coincidence?
Back to classical civilisation, where our teacher would perform the lesson. Perform is a good word to use. It encapsulates the material – which was often amusing Roman plays or stories of the original Olympics – and the dynamic, enthusiastic teaching style.
There was plenty of big gestures and occasionally singing.
This particular lesson we had been reading from the Odyssey. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Odyssey is an old story originally told by an Ancient Greek man called Homer. It tells the story of a chap called Odysseus. In the film Troy, he’s briefly portrayed by Sean Bean (and doesn’t die).
The Odyssey starts after the Trojan war, and is the tale of Odysseus’ epic journey home (where his devoted wife is waiting). It’s a long journey because of the various magical women Odysseus offends or seduces.
One of the essay based exam questions was to be about the characteristics of Odysseus. Something like ‘Was Odysseus brave?’, although my memory might be simplifying the matter.
In preparation, we’d been discussing Odysseus’s characteristics.
Typical classroom scene. Noph is beside me. The teacher’s stood at the front. He picks up a whiteboard marker and draws out a row of horizontal lines ready for a quick game of hangman. Of course the whiteboard marker doesn’t work, so he finds another one in the desk drawer and tries again.
Ten blank spaces.
Someone calls out a letter, I forget which, and the base of the hangman is drawn. Another letter is shouted and this time it’s added into the word.
Then, Noph calls out, “Altruistic.”
The teacher looks at her a little put out whilst everyone else turns to stare, as if she’s shouted out something in Latin.
With a little less flare than when he started, the teacher writes out the letters on the whiteboard and asks Noph to explain what it means. She does. Flawlessly as always.
Altruistic – having unselfish concern for the welfare of others.
Now, I’m unlikely to describe Odysseus as altruistic. I used to be able to give you a detailed for and against argument to explain this, but alas I am out of practice.
Noph however, she’s got an unconditional unselfish concern for my welfare that keeps me grounded. For her patience and care, I am deeply grateful.