1. Doreen Pope
2. Education: Doing bad and feeling good
3. Dance cards
4. Language and literature
by Mary Loudon (The Independent Magazine, 20 August 1994) 1. Practically no one reading this will have heard of Miss Pope. Her greatness is not obvious and it has never been documented, but she is my hero nevertheless. This year she retires after a lifetime’s teaching, the last 25 years of which has been spent as a junior-school headmistress in Wantage, Oxfordshire. I was brought up in Wantage, and between the ages of eight and 11 I attended her school. 2. Miss Pope is a strong and wholesome woman. Tall, well-built and cosy with it, she was consistently cheerful without being too jolly or brisk. She had boundless energy, and soft skin that tanned easily and never lost its colour. Her clothes were functional and unobtrusive, heavy jerseys in neutral mauves and beiges, and sensible shoes. 3. Miss Pope’s permanent accoutrements were a white Saab 96, from which she would wave cheerily whilst driving around the market square, and a rather anti-social dog, a rare breed of Shetland collie called Sheena. Just as Shetland ponies look stunted, so do Shetland collies. Sheena consisted of long, thick, orangey fur on very short legs: imagine Lassie crossed with Dougal from The Magic Roundabout. We adored her because she looked arrested in permanent puppyhood, but she was completely indifferent to us. She would retreat to her kennel as the first child arrived for school and only re-emerge at 3.30. It was a marvel to me that such an affectionate woman could live with such an aloof dog, and yet they were inseparable, an item. I’m convinced that “Miss Pope and Sheena” were painted almost as often in that school as the Madonna and Child were in Renaissance Europe. 4. Miss Pope believed that children only learnt self-worth and corporate responsibility through recognition of their gifts, however insignificant they might have seemed in scholastic terms: so while she was appreciative of talent and enthusiasm, it was those who were shy, or obstreperous, or who found reading and writing difficult, with whom she spent the most time. She was patient, kind and egalitarian, but she was also the sort of person that children don’t muck about: she had natural authority, and we were all in awe of her. Even the class delinquent would beg not to be sent to her office and that was saying something: after all, he wasn’t bothered by the local police. She never lost her cool, although running down corridors and throwing balls too close to windows could provoke a thunderous bellow identical to Albert Finney’s memorable “Stop Thaat Traaain!” in the film The Dresser. 5. Miss Pope was an enormous success with children because she had genuine affinity with them. She enjoyed the things that children enjoyed, like pudding and snow and hugs and the slapstick bits of school plays. She had an insatiable sense of humour and a huge, rotund laugh, and she never failed to reward even the dullest anecdote or simplest joy with her reassuring boom. Indeed, her greatest gift was to make every child feel as if his or her joke, discovery, fear or pleasure was quite unique. 6. She had an unpretentious disregard for the formal. One afternoon she came to see our class frieze of the Great Fire of London. We all crowded round for her approval, while a pompous child called David insisted on explaining it to her: “Now Miss Pope, it’s 1666, and this is Pudding Lane, which as I expect you know is where the fire started. This is the Tower of London, which as I expect you know is where they kept all the traitors, and this -” at which point she threw back her head and boomed with laughter, her attention caught by a hapless man engulfed in flames and plunging head first into the River Thames. “Good heavens, what an unlucky fellow! Who is he?” “No one,” said David, refusing to be diverted. “No one’s no one, David...
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