Teen-agers tend to idealism. Teachers are aware of this. Which is why many of us in the 60s and 70s taught the First World War poetry of Owen and Sassoon. They were relevant and understandable and students responded quickly and well. Rachel McAlpine’s research at the time confirmed what was my experience as a secondary school inspector – they were amongst the most commonly used poems. I suspect that one of the seedbeds of this country’s anti-nuclear policy was this classroom practice.
I used them myself before I became a ‘beak’ as we were known in the profession. Particularly popular were Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est and Futility. Sassoon’s The General was another. Two soldiers say ‘he’s a cheery old card.’ ‘But he did for them both with his plan of attack.’ There is a chilling poem about a badly wounded soldier waiting outside as the evening cools down to be wheeled inside who asks ‘why don’t they come.’
I find myself relating to that man’s situation as I become increasingly dependent upon others. I don’t like it. I try not to let frustration and resentment twist me into anger and bitterness. But it is difficult. Since I have given up driving I can’t just hop in the car and go out and buy an Easter egg for Anne. Everything has to be planned and thought about. It’s pretty rugged on her. It’s like having to look after a child again.
A small example. We found the swan plant that we’d put outside after the two monarch butterfly caterpillars had departed had sprouted leaves and now had another large caterpillar. We brought it inside and found it had eaten nearly all the leaves. So Anne went to a nursery to buy another plant. She then had to assist the thing to the fresh grazing – I do not have the manual dexterity. She knows that watching that little beast gives me interest, is indeed a pleasure like a kid with building blocks. But it’s another chore for her. She wears the Harvey cross. For that I am fortunate and grateful.
The things I cannot do now; the list seems interminable. Shakespeare’s several ages of man; I’ve come full circle.