I don’t remember much about my teachers or lessons at Paddington Green Primary School. Teaching, if my school was anything to go by, was nowhere near as good in those days – disorganised, unambitious, uninspiring. I don’t remember the names of my teachers, not even the glamourous one in my class picture:
(I’m the little boy with the red jumper and blond hair.)
But I do remember Ivor Cutler. You can see him here top left in this shot of the staff:
He used to take us in the school hall for movement and music. He would get us telling stories. He was surreal, sensitive, gently anarchic, always surprising. Once he said that he would give us packets of flower seeds if we would promise to sprinkle them between paving stones.
He also wrote some books for children. Like Meal One, with pictures by Helen Oxenbury:
One morning, Helbert woke with a plum in his mouth. He pulled it out and held it between his fingers for a good look: it was purple and juicy.
“Who put a plum in my mouth while I was asleep?” he wondered.
“Me!” shouted his mum, stretching her head out from under the bed with a great grin on her lips. “Hello, Mum!” he smiled.
Helbert stuck the plum back, chewed it and spat out the stone.
‘”Let’s plant it, Mum,” he said.
“Where?” she replied.
“Under the bed,” he laughed, sleepily, stretching his right arm.
So they both cruched under the bed and cut a hole in the floorboards…
At first the tree doesn’t grow, but together they address the plum stone:
O Stone! O Mighty Plum! Send forth roots and shoots. Grow with our love into a plum tree, with lots of plums!
When they go downstaires for meal one they gasp at what they see in the kitchen:
In the ceiling was a jaggy hole.
Throught the hole was a tree.
The roots of the tree hung over the table, spread with meal one.
There was a lound sucking gobbling noise.
But meal one is not lost. Helbert’s mother manages to set it to rights, by the simple expedient of turning the clock back an hour. Helbert again wakes up, this time with nothing in his mouth.
You can hear Helen Oxenbury talking about this collaboration here.