The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper

I'm currently reading a very pleasant book, concerned with good manly things like fishing and the benefit to young chaps of having a mentor. It's one thing that I really regret - never having the luck to have had one of those special teachers who can truly enthrall you on a subject. Perhaps if I had, I may have managed to get to a university...

My father had an amazing teacher at his school -who I was lucky enough to meet in his twilight years. He was a chap called Walter Strachan (pronounced 'Strawn') and whilst being a language teacher at a minor public school, he was also a tremendous polymath who spent his spare time writing books on the history of art, being official translator of serious authors like Herman Hesse, and various poets from french, italian and german into english, being the best friend of Henry Moore and collecting art.

My father had been so enthused about art and languages by him at school that they had remained in touch for nearly 50 years, writing a couple of times a year and meeting occasionally. I was frequently taken along on these trips in the hope of learning something.

Strachan lived in one of those early metroland-style semis, all box-hedge, porch and leaded windows - part of the creeping fringes of suburbia that EM Forster likened to 'red rust'. Inside the house was a chaotic mess. Each room was piled high with a dusty labyrinth of books, manuscripts and folios. On every wall were original sketches and works by some of the greatest artists of the Twentieth Century. Many were personally signed to him. As a 13 year old I could only recognise the signature on the large Picasso on the stairs, but i'm certain that all the other pictures in the house were of exceptional provenance. The art on his walls was worth a fortune, yet his cardigan was full of holes. He didn't care about money, only art. I remember him offering me some very stale buns, which I ate out of politeness.

His archive now resides at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge - I would love to go and look through it some time. I have many of his books on my shelves at home - they are mostly books of his letters to Henry Moore and frighteningly highbrow tomes on french engravers of the 1930's and the like. But all are inscribed inside to me, and I shall always treasure them.
I suppose that I just missed this generation of teachers, those bright young things who were at oxbridge in the 1930's and then further formed by their experiences in the war. I don't think we shall ever see their like again.


zmkc said...

I specially like the detail of the buns. I don't think children eat things out of politeness any more - which may be a good thing.

Brit said...

As the years went by did your father become his friend (an equal), or did the pupil/teacher relationship linger?

worm said...

very much an equal Brit, Walter was very 'trendy' for his time and had no truck with the usual 1950's disciplinarian attitudes (I imagine he was probably being monitored by MI5 as being a potential commie)