Tuesday 29th November 2011
GRIN and bear it; stiff upper lip; backs to the wall. We’re terribly stoical in this country; or naïvely masochistic, depending upon one’s point of view.
Although, during my eight years teaching at a local comprehensive, I urged everyone – scholars, parents and colleagues alike – to call me Marcus, one person steadfastly refused to do so: Mrs Fowler, a kitchen lady.
“I’m old-fashioned. I shall call you Mr Moore, Mr Moore, and that’s all there is to it.”
After that, we got on famously. She’d put something by if I had a busy lunch hour and I’d help collect coffee cups on parents’ evenings. She reminded me of my Mum.
I recall little of what I did, or was expected to do, as the staff representative of the National Union of Teachers. Occasionally I’d have discussions with the headteacher – whether we should help clear pathways through the snow, for example – but disputes were rare and everything was handled with due professionalism when the NUT withdrew its goodwill for a few weeks and we had to leave the premises at lunchtime.
Many kitchen staff were union members too. When a day’s strike was called in response to an appalling pay offer made to these stalwart public servants, Mrs Fowler was beside herself.
“I don’t know what to do, Mr Moore. Can you see me holding up a banner?”
I couldn’t… but when I did, it brought a lump to my throat, as a colleague and I approached the school gate and there she was, almost in tears at the heart-rending decision she’d had to make.
“Good morning, Mrs Fowler. You’ve been compelled to take industrial action, I see.”
“That we have, Mr Moore.”
“Well, all I can say, Mrs Fowler, is that we, as members of the NUT, fully support your strike and therefore feel honour bound not to cross your picket line.”
Whereupon we departed, to spend the day working on a forthcoming school play.
I’m lucky to have a teaching pension, proud of that single day’s unpaid leave in the small print… and proud too, tomorrow, to be supporting Mrs Fowlers everywhere.