A Surprise Christmas Present

Today, I was minding my own business, helping my husband make up the Christmas Ocado order when the postman arrived. There were the usual cards and statements,  but also a small padded bag. I looked at the back and saw the name and address of my old friend and former primary school teacher, Evelyn. Many of you will have read my tribute to her earlier on in the year. She had emailed that she had sent me card and so I was expecting to see her writing any day soon, but not on a padded bag.

I opened it and out fell a hard object wrapped in bubblewrap. The envelope had originally come from a bead and crystal shop and I thought she had sent me a crystal for Christmas. I carefully unwrapped it and to my astonishment out fell a very old fountain pen and propelling pencil – do you remember those?!

I couldn’t speak. I sat there with my mouth wide open and nothing coming out. When it did it was ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god’ on a loop (my apologies to anyone offended by this) accompanied by my husband’s ‘What, what, WHAT?! I imagine we looked like a couple of goldfish in a bowl.

img_2735I held in my hand the very fountain pen and pencil Evelyn had used to mark the class register, write reports and letters to our parents, the same white and gold pen I had coveted all these years. I was only thinking about it quite recently and wondering if she still had it. And here was the set, looking a little the worse for wear, sitting in the palm of my hand. I was in shock.

This means so much to me, I don’t have the words to explain.

I looked inside the bag for a note, but all I found was a Christmas card wishing us a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2017 followed by the words ‘Over half a century now!’

Nothing about the pen and pencil. I desperately wanted to speak to her. I tried Skyping but there was no response. She is probably at her sister’s for Christmas and I will have to contain my excitement and inquisitiveness until the New Year!

I don’t quite know why I was so fascinated by this pen. I loved the gold pattern on it and I loved the black Indian ink Evelyn filled it with. I was 9 years old and this was my first experience of a fountain pen at close quarters. I was inspired by it. I loved her handwriting, big and loopy, very informal, arty and friendly. I would recognise it anywhere. To me, this pen set was symbolic of her youth and style, it was modern, unusual, fun. It is so slim and light. It also looked very posh to my impoverished eyes!

I have always loved using a fountain pen and I can’t wait to clean this one out and see if it still works. Wouldn’t that be something, after all these years?!

Needless to say, my husband had to finish off the shopping list all on his own, he didn’t get any sense out of me for the rest of the day!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Inspiring Women: An Expression of Gratitude

Bernadette at Haddonmusings.com has invited her followers to write posts about the women who have inspired us and has generously provided a platform to leave a link on her blog ‘because we can never share too many stories about inspiring women.’

At first, I wasn’t sure how such a post would fit with the themes of my blog, but then I thought that since gratitude and appreciation are essential traits for our sense of well-being, our happiness, how we interact with others and especially our physical and emotional health, this gives me an opportunity to write about an amazing woman who shepherded me through my early years and saw something in me that I have struggled to see in myself.

So, this is my inspiring woman:


For a long time I’ve wanted to tell the world about my primary school teacher, Evelyn. She didn’t just teach me, she supported me and influenced the person I’ve become, and continues to do so. I didn’t just like or admire her, or feel inspired by her, I wanted to be her!

I believe our class was her first posting after qualifying. We were 8 years old and just back from summer holidays, all chatting excitedly, when a young woman with fashionably-waved shoulder-length blonde hair walked into our classroom, wearing a pencil skirt and v-neck sweater. She had a ready smile and sparkling, smiley eyes. She laughed easily. I liked her immediately.

I enjoyed school and I did well, but was quite reserved and somehow this new teacher brought me out of myself. She gently pushed me to move beyond my limitations, selecting me to read the Lesson in morning assembly when it was our class’s turn to do so, listening to me practice over and over until I gained the confidence I needed, persuading me to lift my voice so they could hear me at the back;  encouraging me to try out for the choir; giving me a lead role in our class drama but not one that was too showy – I played the narrator who was a grandma, sitting in a rocking chair with her 2 grandchildren at her feet, listening to me read the bedtime story that was enacted by our classmates.

She was energetic with modern ideas. For our annual Rose Queen Day, she choreographed formation hoola hoop and I was one of the leaders! She also lead the maypole dancing and country dancing instruction – I think we must have sorely tried her patience – and inevitably on the day, the wind would get up and the pole would lean perilously, despite the heaviest boys being commandeered to sit on the base to keep it upright!

My favourite part of her class, though, was the art and craft sessions. She is responsible for all the handmade cards my family and friends now receive, all the Christmas decorations over the years – I remember her teaching us to make Chinese lanterns – the weaving, the knitting and so on.

I loved watching her write with a white and gold fountain pen in indian ink. I have always loved writing with a fountain pen, though that hardly ever happens now as the iPad has taken over my life. There is something inspiring about ink gliding over a new sheet of good-quality writing paper. It seems to produce higher-quality work. (* See my follow-up post, link below).

Somehow, it was decided that she would move up with us the following year. It was all so seamless and I was never happier. I don’t recall one bad day while in her class – but there were some amusing ones. Like when we had been studying tadpoles in a tank in the classroom which suddenly became frogs over the weekend and were jumping all over the place when we arrived on Monday morning. Then the shock we had when our 2 class mice became a dozen while our backs were turned and all these hairless pink-skinned creatures took over the cage. I didn’t like them and am squeamish to this day when it comes to rodents. I do recall her being as surprised as we were at this unexpected turn of events!

I once found a white kitten and took it home. We had two dogs and Dad said I couldn’t keep it. The poor thing spent a couple of nights in our coal house. I told Evelyn about it and she could see I was upset. She asked the class if they would ask their parents that evening if any of them could take it. One boy, Michael, announced next morning that his mum said he could give it a home. Evelyn told me to bring it to school after lunch. Of course, the white cat was now well and truly dark grey, having slept on a pile of coal for 2 nights. Evelyn was aghast and told me to wash it in the class sink and then take it out onto the field to dry out. Can you imagine this happening today?! Michael and I went to his house to deliver the cat. His mum knew nothing about it! But I left the cat there and as far as I know, that became its new home.

This school photo was taken at the same time as the imageone of Evelyn above. I remember her suggesting that I pull my ponytail round onto my shoulder. My cardigan was bright red with white spots. It was one of my favourite things to wear. But it wasn’t school uniform!

One of the things she pressed home was never to begin a sentence with ‘but’ – and I paid attention for so many years. However, having missed a rebellious youth, I arrived at a rebellious middle age and when she was proofreading my family history book, I deliberately included this grammatical faux pas, just to see if she would notice, and I do it periodically when I write to her. Did you spot it in the last paragraph? She will of course read this and smile indulgently.

We went our separate ways at the end of that year, Evelyn married and moved to another area and another school, and a year later I went on to a girls’ grammar school, having passed my 11+. I couldn’t have done it without her encouragement and gentle coaxing, giving me much-needed confidence and self-esteem, and the belief that I was capable.

We kept in touch and have continued to do so all these years, even when she lived on a different continent. We have both had our trials and tribulations, but there was always the thrill of seeing her big, bold, loopy handwriting on an envelope when the post came, with its foreign stamps and exotic tales.

Apart from when Mum and I stood outside the church to see her in her wedding dress and a chance encounter after school at a bus station when I was 11, we’ve only met twice since, in the 80’s, once at her home when my family were very young and we holidayed nearby, and once when she and her husband visited us.

Yet, she has been there watching and encouraging me all the time. We laugh about our headmaster’s crêpe-soled shoes and her dislike of his ‘slobbering labrador’ and smile about the foibles of other teachers.

She taught in various capacities all her life, including young people who had problems at school. She did yoga, swimming, Scottish country dancing, drama, made cards. She has collected other pupils along the way and helped women who were struggling to cope. Since she retired some time ago, she has joined the University of the Third Age and is so busy I hardly hear from her! Every so often I receive a breathless apologetic email and I laugh. She will be mortified when she reads that.

Did you notice the horseshoe necklace Evelyn is wearing in herimage photograph? She sent it to me some years ago, it was bought for her 21st and I remember her wearing it when she was my teacher. I was very honoured to receive it. Here it is on a new chain that my mum bought for the purpose. It is doubly special.

I shall always be grateful to this young novice teacher for having faith in me, for making me laugh, for making school such an enjoyable, positive experience, for not giving me up when she moved on. I love learning, I have an enthusiasm for it that matches hers. I challenge myself regularly. She also taught me about loyalty and the value of a true and trusting friendship. I have held others to this high standard and sadly found them wanting.

There is, however, one area where we do differ: she likes dogs and I prefer cats!

Thank you, Evelyn, for everything.

*A Surprise Christmas Present

Ps. Take a look at Bernadette’s blog to read about other Inspiring Women – link at the top of this post.

Five inspiring legends on stage together (if you’re reading via email, click on to the blog to watch the video):

Copyright: Chris McGowan