I have always been very hyperactive and sitting still for long periods of time is challenging for me. I have never needed a lot of sleep and when I was young the doctors advised my mother to sleep when I slept, if she hoped to get some rest. Even now my wife says if I lie on the sofa for a few hours I must be feeling ill, because sitting still… well, it’s not in my DNA. Looking back I would probably have been diagnosed with ADHD put on Ritalin, had it been available.
At school I would get bored and fidget in lessons. I challenged the teachers and was branded disruptive. Then, when I was 9 years old I changed school. My previous school rang ahead and informed my new headmaster of how challenging I was, but my new headmaster, Mr Haley, was a different type of teacher altogether. He was the kind of teacher that never expected kids to be perfect, but to be themselves. He understood respect could not be brandished by strong will and authority, it had to be earned with patience and understanding. He never tired of answering questions. Yes, my new headmaster was a man of tolerance. He had a great booming voice that commanded your attention. He was realistic, practical, and funny, with a passion for telling stories.
Within the first week of starting at High Westwood, I discovered Mr Haley regularly went hunting and ferreting on the weekends. I approached him and asked if I could go with him one day.
“Well, I’ll tell you what Kevin,” he said in his booming voice, “if I haven’t heard any bad reports about you by the end of term; you can come ferreting with me! ”
He needn’t have worried. My disruptiveness usually stemmed from boredom and Mr Haley had an answer for that. If I finished a work book before everyone else he’d simply get some scrap paper and write a new problem for me to solve. It kept me challenged. It kept me busy. It taught me that learning at school didn’t have to be boring. For the first time in my educational life, I had someone who seemed to understand me and believe in me.
The week before our Christmas holidays I reminded Mr Haley of what he’d promised. Mr Haley said he’d have to check with all the other teachers and dinner ladies, to make sure I’d been well behaved. Everyone reported back that I had been as ‘good as gold’. So that was that.
The following weekend I turned up at Mr Haley’s house, ready to go. We travelled for 2 hours to the estate where he had permission to hunt and I pretty much chewed his ear off with questions the whole way. Geoff patiently answered every question. Even when we arrived my questions didn’t stop and Geoff would simply laugh at my never ending enthusiasm and kept answering the barrage of trivia. I went hunting with him every weekend for years to come. He became my role model, my mentor. Leading through example, he showed me the type of man I wanted to be.
Geoff and his wife Bobbie are still a huge part of my life and I visit them regularly. Geoff still tells funny stories and imparts his wisdom on me, only now he is not just my teacher, he is my friend.