I travelled down to London yesterday for a big educational bash, rather a splendid event organised every year by one of the great livery companies.
In the course of it I met two senior students from the school in the Midlands where I was Head for 18 years, Wolverhampton Grammar School. I taught in the school before being promoted internally, so my history there goes back to 1981.
Naturally these charming young people said they knew my name and that people still talked of me, although I left there in 2008. It may be true: but they were possibly being merely polite!
Then came the most telling point, and the true indicator to being remembered. The Head Girl (for they were very senior students) said that still floating around the school’s Sixth Form Centre was a hole-punch with my name scratched on it.
Forget the portrait (that school commemorates its previous heads in the old fashioned style), and disregard naming buildings or prizes after people: this is a real memorial. Fully 30 years after I scratched my name in the black paint (I can still picture it) of that hole-punch, it’s still doing its job – er, punching holes in paper.
Why would one bother to scratch one’s name on a hole-punch? That’s easy. I’ve always found the people I work with honest, supportive and cooperative. But in offices and schools alike, I believe that people are shameless with regard to two things: spoons; and office equipment.
After all, how many times have you been unable to locate a spoon, even though there were six in that office drawer yesterday? It’s as if the normal rules of social etiquette, courtesy and downright honesty don’t apply when it comes to spoons. When you are making that cup of tea or coffee, so vital is that simple implement that the idea of property, of meum and teum, goes out the window. Spoons are fair game.
I suspect it’s the same with staplers, hole-punches and the like. When it comes to finding means of fixing bits of paper together, it’s dog-eat-dog in the office environment. I can actually remember scratching my name on that fine new hole-punch three decades ago – simply to ensure that, if it did wander, it would come back to me. It did, time after time. And it’s still there.
There’s something absurdly heart-warming about all this. It’s not a grand statement. It’s not a plaque on the wall, not a statue, not a portrait, not a stained glass window. But it’s still there, being passed round – and (this is the amazing bit) it’s actually useful for something. If that isn’t a memorial of some worth, then I don’t know what is.
Sic transit gloria mundi, as they say. And as the old joke goes, Gloria’s getting a bit fed up too.