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Tuesday 28 November 2017

Dear Pat

My gentle French teacher with husband Brian
Pat my French teacher for almost two decades died yesterday.

When Brian her husband phoned I wasn't able to offer him a single word of sympathy. Mere fragments of phrases but perhaps these were some measure of how I felt. For now the Friday morning trio, which includes my co-student Beryl, translating Delphine de Vigan, Balzac, Georges Duhamel, Irène Nemirovsky, even Simenon, was at an end. I've always been an awkward student but Pat (and much more recently V) overcame my awkwardness. The brutalities of my school life were happily well-buried.

On Sunday I visited Pat in Hereford's hospice. A tiny figure in a huge techno-bed, listening to her daughter, Celia, reciting the twenty-third psalm which Pat had asked for. Later I sat by the bed holding Pat's hand. She used to be a chorister and I jokingly suggested I might sing. She was having difficulty speaking but it was clear that wasn't her preference. She was the gentlest person I've known (she was a Quaker) and I smiled at her firmness. Good teachers are firm when they need to be.

Another thought occurred and I recited the first verse of my Grannie's favourite hymn:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

Pat whispered "That's good." It might well have been a summary of her life and what I knew about her. Although Pat was far too modest to have claimed that.

Her death was imminent and expected. But when it came my vocabulary wasn't up to the job. Weirdly that pleases me.


  1. So sorry to hear that. I met her a few times and have pleasant memories of an exceptionally kind, calm, and intelligent person, and as a teacher having that rare facility to correct you with firm encouragement, and not the slightest hint to discomfit.

  2. Sir Hugh: "Kind, calm and intelligent." I'll go with that. You were at disadvantage when you attended our class (since you were only able to consider a shortish passage and not the whole book) and I was interested to see how Pat allowed for this during your translations. How she drew you into the group. A rare skill.

  3. Strangely, to be carried beyond words is a thing that needs words in order to be carried beyond.

    You seem to have a gift for finding the right teachers. I'm sorry you have lost this one, though glad that she was so worthy of your respect and affection. She sounds lovely.

  4. Marly: Being without words wasn't pleasant at the time, a bit like losing a leg or, perhaps, both legs. It was only afterwards I realised that my stuttering dumbness was more eloquent than some contrived sentence or other.

    For years I was a bad student and got the teachers I deserved. It was only when I decided - belatedly - to arrange voluntary education that things got beter. All four French teachers were women and, of course, so is V. The benefits I have received from women are, I think, indirectly reflected in all my novels.

  5. The hymn you recited was really spot on. It was one of the hymns she had chosen for her wedding and which was also sung at her funeral. You were definitely in the Spirit!

  6. Teachers, the truly good ones as Pat seems to have been, are gifts from the Universe, and live on in the hearts and memories of their students. She walked in the Light, from what I remember from your posts about her. It has been my honor to have known and loved several Friends now gone and I am sorry for your loss, RR.

  7. Crow: How pleasing to hear from you. Just before Pat became ill we started a new French novel, Pars Vite et Reviens Tard. by Fred Vargas. 23 pages out of 347. It's not an entirely serious book and no doubt the three of us would have had fun. Now, I'm not sure I can finish it. Perhaps its unfinished state will remain as a tribute to Pat, that without her the fun we might have had is now beyond reach.

    Meanwhile you will see you are covered in my honours roll listed in the post Loved I Not Honour More. I hope whatever you're looking for arrives in part or in whole over the next 24 hours. Love.