The Lesson

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Christopher's handwriting was shocking. His teacher set him homework.

Mrs Hannon walked down the aisles of the classroom, returning the marked exercise books to her pupils. The seven-year olds flicked to the latest pages to see what marks they had been given. Some were happy with the marks they had been given. They waved their open books for their friends to see, boasting about their mark. Others huffed and tutted, closing their books flat on the desk and saying little. They had clearly had poorer marks than their classmates.

Christopher stared in confusion at his exercise book. It wasn’t a good mark, it wasn’t bad. The red pen note simply read See Me. Those two words were what every pupil dreaded. A rubbish mark was preferable to actually having to see the teacher. They had been asked to write about the Tudors and King Henry and his wives. He thought he had done okay. He found the period and the King interesting and had enjoyed learning about the period in class. He hadn’t been expecting the best marks in class but to get the dreaded See Me was much worse than he had hoped for.

He was tempted to try and get away with it. Should he just leave as normal at half three? As Mrs Hannon explained to the class how Henry VIII had destroyed the monasteries and took their wealth for his own, Christopher tried to think. If he pretended, he’d forgotten about the comment in his exercise book, and he got caught, would that land him in more trouble? Possibly. Mrs Hannon would shriek his name and ask if he hadn’t read the comments.

At the end of the class, as the others filed out, with a feeling of dread in his stomach, Christopher approached Mrs Hannon at her desk.

‘Yes, Christopher?’

‘You wanted to see me, miss.’

He handed over his exercise book, wishing he’d have gambled and left without saying a word.

‘Ah, yes, that’s right.’

Christopher sighed, wondering what he was about to be chastised for.

‘Is there something wrong with what I’ve written, miss?’

‘You could say that, yes.’

Christopher said nothing, just glad that the issue was being dealt with outside of the gaze of his classmates.

‘I couldn’t read it. The handwriting is just atrocious.’

She flicked through the pages. Christopher could have read every word, but now, as he looked at it, with fresh eyes, it was a scribble, a scrawl.

‘I can read it, miss.’

‘That wasn’t a lot of help on Sunday afternoon when I was marking it, Christopher. The point of writing is that you can read it but also, that others, your teacher for example,’ she smiled. ‘can read it and understand what you are trying to say.’

Christopher felt his cheeks burn red. He blinked hard, trying to avoid the tears.

‘Sorry, miss.’ He managed.

‘I think we need to do something about this. Your writing is appalling. I don’t know how you can read it. It’s a mess.’

‘What should I do?’

‘You need to spend time each evening working on your handwriting.’

‘Writing?’

‘Yes, each night you must write at least four pages. Practise writing clearly. Don’t think of it as a punishment. It’s like Bryan Robson, if he were struggling with free kicks then he’d have to practise taking free kicks, wouldn’t he?’

‘Yes, miss, yes he would.’

‘Starting tonight, when you’ve had your tea, you must write four pages. Concentrate on getting the words down clearly on the page. You can then show me your writing and I can see how the handwriting is progressing.’

Still feeling as though he was being punished, Christopher nodded, saying nothing.

‘We’ll give you another exercise book for this particular task.’ Mrs Hannon said. ‘You must write four pages an evening.’

‘Okay, I will.’ He said.

Mrs Hannon rummaged in her desk drawer for a moment. Finally, with a here we are, the teacher produced a fresh, blank exercise book. She handed it over to Christopher, reminding him, four pages a day handwriting practise.

The boy slid the notebook into his school bag. He yanked the straps of his rucksack over his shoulders. He headed for the door. Then he stopped, he turned, with a panicked look on his face.

‘Miss?’

‘Yes?’

‘But what am I to write on those pages?’

Mrs Hannon smiled.

‘Whatever you like.’

As Christopher walked home from school, he felt strange. He had been punished because of his dreadful handwriting. He would have more work to do each evening than his classmates. But there was something else. He felt as though he had been given something special. It was as though he had been given an invitation to a secret world. He had to practise handwriting each evening, but he could write about whatever he chose. Whatever you like, he said to himself. He could visit far-off distant planets, he could visit Liverpool at the height of Beatlemania twenty years ago or go back to when the Vikings were invading Britain, or be the first school boy to trek across the galaxy. He was being handed the entire universe. He kicked an empty cola can down the pavement as he walked. He laughed.

This wasn’t a punishment, this was the most amazing gift. What would tonight’s four pages be about? Of course he would take care that the handwriting was okay. That was, on the surface, the point of the task. It was as though he had been given the latest BMX bike to practise cycling on. For him, it wasn’t about the learning to cycle, it was about going all-out on a brand-new BMX.

That evening at the dining table with his parents, when they asked how his day had been, Christopher explained that to improve his handwriting, he had to write four pages of each evening.

‘You can’t blame her. Your writing looks like someone dipped a spider in ink and let it crawl over the page.’ laughed his dad.  

Christopher laughed too. He had to admit, his father had a point. He was the only person who could read his scribble.

‘What do you have to write about?’ asked his mother.

‘That’s the really weird thing,’ Christopher said. ‘Miss said I can write anything as long as I get the pages done.’

‘I suppose it’s to practise the writing so it doesn’t matter what you write.’ said his dad.

‘But how exciting,’ said his mother. ‘our son, the writer.’

Christopher was thinking along the same lines, and he had to admit he liked the sound of being a writer.

And so, after his tea, he went upstairs and cleared the junk off his small bedroom table. He laid out his pencils and his exercise book. His table was now a writing desk. He recalled hearing once that Roald Dahl writes his stories in a shed at the bottom of the garden. Maybe one day he would have special shed like that. He opened up the notebook and picked up his pen. He repeated the way Mrs Hannon had told him, best handwriting. And he began writing.

The following morning, he handed the teacher his notebook. She flicked through the pages, inspecting the writing.

‘A slight improvement.’ She nodded, handing him back the notebook.

She did not repeat that he had to write the same amount that evening, Christopher did not ask. It was the agreement they had.

As he walked home from school, Christopher mulled over what he would write about that evening. He felt as though he was starting on a great adventure. He told himself to remember about the handwriting and not just lose himself completely in the story.

For the next two weeks he wrote every evening, concentrating on both the story and the handwriting. Each morning he would present Mrs Hannon with the pages. Judging by her comments, his handwriting was improving. It reached the point where, without thinking about it, without any effort, he wrote in a neat print.

One morning he approached Mrs Hannon with his latest story for her to inspect his handwriting. She had a quick flick through and smiled.

‘You’ve cracked it, Christopher. Well done. You don’t need to do this now.’

Christopher returned to his desk feeling dejected. He had grown to really enjoy the writing session each evening, and during the day he would let his mind wander and come up with ideas for his stories. And now he had been told to stop.

The thought occurred to him on the way home, as he kicked an empty can through the park. Just because he did not have to hand in his pages, didn’t mean he couldn’t write the stories anyway. He could write each evening, for his own enjoyment, for the fun of it. He dribbled the can down the path, running faster and faster, and then stuck the can as hard as he could, pretending he’d just scored at Old Trafford. He could write whatever he wanted, and not just four pages a night. He could write as long as he liked. He felt suddenly free, liberated from his schoolwork and their rules.

After tea, while his parents watched the soaps, he retreated to his room. His writing desk was there waiting for him. He grabbed his pencils and opened the notebook. And he wrote.

A few nights later, his mother popped her head around his bedroom door.

‘What are you doing, love?’

‘Writing my stories.’ he said.

‘Does Mrs Hannon still have you doing that?’

‘No, but, I dunno.’

‘My boy’s a writer.’ She laughed. ‘Good for you.’

From that moment on Christopher considered himself a writer. He wasn’t sure if his stories were any good, but he was a writer either way. In a weird sort of way, it did not matter if his tales were good. They were not for anyone else to read. It was the writing process that thrilled him. He would get an idea for a story and get stuck into writing. He soon filled the notebook and asked his parents to buy him a new notebook. His mother grinned and said that they’d pick up a pad with the next morning’s papers.

That was the first notebook of hundreds. Christopher never grew out of writing his stories. He filled notebook after notebook, numbering them as he went. At secondary school when he was asked what he wanted to do when he left school, he said he wanted to be an author. It had taken all the courage he had to admit his desire out loud. His writing was something that was deeply personal. Only the very closest family and friends knew of his pastime. He never discussed it. If the subject were ever raised, he would feel his cheeks burn red, and try and change the topic of conversation. In reaction to his dream of being an author, the class erupted into laughter. Christopher looked to the teacher for support. When he saw the teacher laughing along he felt as though he had been struck. For weeks after that he was teased and called names. He didn’t enter into any debate about his hobby. He would say nothing. But he never stopped writing.

Fifteen years later Christopher’s debut novel was published. At a book signing in Manchester the interviewer asked a question.

‘Can you explain the dedication, To Mrs Hannon?’


Submitted: January 10, 2021

© Copyright 2021 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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Comments

AdamCarlton

An optimistic story - faint wisps of autofiction ?

Sun, January 10th, 2021 4:57pm

Author
Reply

Thanks for the feedback. Yes, Mrs Hannon used to focus on my handwriting, but the stories we’d have to write generally encouraged me.

Sun, January 10th, 2021 9:05am

hullabaloo22

What a lovely thing for a teacher to inspire. If only more could be as patient and encouraging, many more budding writers might be found.

Sun, January 10th, 2021 7:21pm

Author
Reply

Thanks as always! It’s kind of based on my childhood. My handwriting still isn’t great ????

Sun, January 10th, 2021 11:45am

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