Meeting the kids in the school where I once dreamed of being an author was the closest I’ll ever get to time travel. Brooke and Freya, two budding young writers at Bushmead Primary, described it as a ‘once in a lifetime’ event. ‘Her expressions were fantastic when she read aloud,’ they wrote. ‘The teachers said it was the quietest we ever sat!’ It was exciting for me too – like meeting versions of my younger self.
Standing in the very hall where we used to eat lunch, climb bars in PE and perform shows like Alice in Wonderland, I felt like I’d fallen down a rabbit hole into another era. Suddenly, I was a red and white playing card again – a Jack of Hearts in itchy red tights, trying to hit a hedgehog with a pink flamingo made out of paper mâché. Nearly half a century had passed, but I could hear the shouts of friends playing Bulldog or French skipping in the playground. And that special hush that descended in the classroom when one particular teacher opened a storybook was just as palpable…
Mrs Heather had the most amazing reading voice. She made it a weekly treat, usually on a Friday afternoon, to read aloud from classics like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and John Masefield’s Box of Delights. ‘The wolves are running…’ she’d say, sending a tingle of excitement through us all. I never wanted the bell to ring. And when it did, I went home and made a den in my own wardrobe, reading more adventures in which seemingly mundane everyday things turned out to be extraordinary.
That passion for stories stayed with me forever. Little did I know that a wolf, majestic like Aslan, would run straight into one of my own books – or that one day I’d return full circle to the place where the dream of being a writer began. It was startling to find myself reading The Mirror of Pharos to the children who attend Bushmead today.
Mrs Heather’s legacy lives on. I can see her now as she waited for the class to settle down, patting her silvery hairdo with the back of her hand, like a cat. Teachers have no idea how inspiring they can be. And no-one should underestimate the power of reading aloud.
Good luck to Brooke and Freya and all the readers and writers at Bushmead. Perhaps one day you’ll return to your old school and tell your story too. I hope so.