Gervase Phinn: Time to say farewell

Sadly this is my penultimate piece for the Opening Remarks column. I think after three years it's time I let someone else share his or her opinions, reminiscences and anecdotes. Over that period, I have been overwhelmed by letters from readers – most complimentary, some critical – and I would like to thank all those who have taken the time and the trouble to write to me.

One memorable letter was from Leslie Huffadine, a former principal lecturer at a college of education, who, having read my piece about early reading schemes, referred me to Chambers Fluent Readers of 1899 with the somewhat dubious list of sentences to start off emergent readers:

Is he up?

Is he to go on?

He is to do it.

Am I to do it?

NO, he is to do it.

I managed to track this book down and added it to my collection. Doreen Whitaker mentioned in her letter Bygone Days, a salutary text that warned children about possible consequences of disobedience. The story of Harriet and the Matches contained the verse:

So she was burnt with all her clothes,

And arms and hands and eyes and nose,

'Til she had nothing more to lose

Except her little scarlet shoes.

And nothing else but these were found

Among her ashes on the ground.

Doreen said that Samuel, her little grandson, shivered and closed the book. "I don't wish to hear any more of that, granny, thank you very much," he told her.

Thank you to John Morgan who put me right about my anecdote of Neil Kinnock, Brian Alderton for his useful advice on how to get rid of my persistent mole and 83-year-old Doreen Illinsworth for her instructions (with diagrams) on how to make a trolley. Geoff Donaldson's dialect poem A Hawporth was a delight and Trevor Walshaw's account of the Great Holmfirth Flood of 1945 was a poignant memory.

There was an unusually large postbag on the subject of unusual names. Eileen Pugh was at school in Bradford with Wendy House and was acquainted with Doris Orris and Maud Mawde. Her husband's friends included Edgar Beaver and Friend Onniens. Ken Morgan taught a Sidney Bridge, a John Thomas and a Justin Finnerty and Pat Armstrong had a child in her class called Yvonne but whose mother insisted in calling her Whyvonny. I was pleased to hear that my readers like JR Warburton and Trevor Walshaw share my sense of humour and my fascination with the inconsistencies and quirks of the English Language. Avril Stuart, an admin officer in a primary school, received a letter from a parent informing her that her daughter would not be at school and apologising for the "incontinence caused".

Helen Platt and Philip Lodge, like many who put pen to paper, shared with me their memories and many teachers related their experiences in the classroom. Sue Travis's letter was particularly touching. She wrote: "I have been a primary school teacher for 34 years and have always maintained that if ever the day dawned when I could not comfort a small child who was hurt or unhappy then that would be the time to throw in the towel."

Thank you for your letters. It is now my turn to do just that.

YP MAG 11/12/10

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