Tuesday, 13 June 2017

In Memory of Delme

I've just heard that one of my favourite teachers Gordon 'Delme' Thomas has died.
Back in 2013.
How did I miss that?
I was a border at Ermysteds 1971 to 78. He instilled a passion within me for the written word: I was a dullard then, he helped me to see the beauty in language and taught me to look for a laugh, even in the stiffest prose. He also taught me how to seam a cricket ball and throw a dummy to the opposite '10'. Years after leaving school I coached Varsity rugby at The American School in London. At the start of every Fall term I'd take my relative fledglings up to Yorkshire where Delme would arrange a Saturday fixture with the 1st XV and a Sunday mauling up at Wharfedale. Of course the Yorkshire lads would thrash and kick the crap out of my boys who always came away from the weekend bewildered but buoyant, more in love with the game, beer and each other than on the Friday. Delme was always a kindly and witty host. He'd fuel me and my assistant coach with Tetley's and tales of... me. Me: 'twinkle toes'. His protege. His blue eyed boy. He remembered every break that I'd made, every dummy scissors, every tackle, every perfectly place chip. And this was the magic of Delme Thomas. He made every kid under the shadow of his beaky, beady eyed gaze feel like a potential hero. His selfless enthusiasm for life was addictive; he always put the boy stage centre. He was Merlin to many Arthurs. Under that benevolent beam we all felt emboldened, enhanced. We believed in ourselves. And yet... if we ever got 'up' ourselves he was quick to stick a pin in an over inflated ego with a withering, witty critique, that trademark guffaw echoing as chastised, humbled and a little dazed, we reset ourselves, wiping his spittle off our over pumped chests. He inspired us to be modest heroes: not a bad carrot to dangle to a wide eyed kid; all of us heroes in our own little orbits. He taught us to love life, to love ourselves, to laugh at ourselves, and to love our mates. Delme recognised the alchemy of childhood, encouraging camaraderie, coaxing us gently out of the playground and onto the pitch. He wasn't the only one to smooth the transition: Adge Douglas and Vernon Rook surely played their part, but while you kind of knew that they hung up their hats at the end of every teaching day, you sensed that Delme was forever on point, there when needed.
'You were a cheeky little bastard and never quite as good as I thought you'd be' was his assessment of my rugby ability 20 odd years later, 'but Christ, you had the best hands of any fly half I've ever coached." As a 40 year old I felt again the power of DT. Emboldened, an inch taller. I believed in me. As I strolled to the bar (as directed) he shouted after me "Ah, but cricket? Hopeless! You coming in at 11. Us needing 5 off the last over. You straight batting every delivery like Boycott. 'Playing yourself in' for Chist's sake! You were a witless little f*cker Jones." he cackled, spraying my back with spittle. But he'd remembered. He'd remembered. And I remember him on the touchline, a prompting Prospero; spitting, cursing, chiding, encouraging, praising, howling with laughter. His beady eye on me, only me: his blue eyed boy.