Sunday, 9 December 2012

Big red flower

Dorothy came round the other evening. Knowing her fondness for noodles I went to the Oriental supermarket to buy Korean pancakes and chow mein noodles with some spicy chicken. In the end we ate lots of French cheese and she took the noodles home in a plastic box.

While she was here Dot expressed surprise again that I had learned Chinese at school. I sang her a little communist children's song we were taught:

Da hong hua
Zhen mei li
Wuo ai wuo_de hao aiyi......

Big red flower
In my hand
I love my beautiful auntie..........
More about the auntie but I forget the words

......xing ge li, xie xie ni
Da hong hua song gei ni

"Were you taught by a Chinese person?" Well no I wasn't, my Chinese teacher was Mr Hunt, Reg as we later came to know him, who was also my form teacher (would you say tutor?) from the second to the fifth year (years 8 to 11).

Mr Hunt was a truly decent person. While the rest of the staff were busy condemning me for being lazy and good for nothing he recognised a sad girl who had been full of promise and had become withdrawn. Where they saw sullenness he perceived sorrow; they wrote me off, he got curious and decided to help.

I have told the story before. It means a lot to me, but like all interesting stories it has become over-rehearsed and that is a shame because with each re-telling it loses a little more potency.

Mr Hunt heard what was happening in my life and did not question it. He acted decisively and gave me a damage limitation plan for my O levels. I already had two passes in subjects I had sat a year early and I needed to select another four, abandoning six subjects. In honour of him one of the four was Chinese.

He emigrated before the exam results were published and it was to be many years before I would be able to tell him - by then as a University Lecturer myself - how he changed the course of my life. But in one of those funny coincidental events that just happen every now and then, I met Mr Hunt briefly about six years after he emigrated. Crossing a road in the centre of Oxford, a small car slowed down, swerved to a halt past the crossing and a man got out and ran towards me. We hugged, which was a lot stranger than it sounds and his first question was,

"Did you get the Chinese?"

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