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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 4, December 2018
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Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand


The Tyrant

At primary school we had a teacher, Mr. Hodges, whom we called “The Tyrant” for his method of cuffing the boys’ ears as they hurried up the stairs from assembly. While they rushed past him, he recited the following verse from Thomas Babington’s poem “Horatius at the Bridge”:

“Come back, come back, Horatius!”
Loud cried the Fathers all,
“Back Lartius! Back, Herminius!
Back, ere the ruin fall!”

Mr. Hodges was a disciplinarian. He thought nothing of pulling a boy from his seat by the hair, throwing the blackboard eraser at a child who misbehaved or railing at the whole class. He was more lenient with the girls, merely standing them in a corner facing the wall with a dunce’s cap on their heads.

sunlit afternoon
tracking a spider’s trail
along the wall

He wasn’t always this strict. My father owned a tailor’s and dry-cleaning shop on the High Street and made suits for Mr. Hodges and took in his cleaning. He lived nearby in an elegant row of Victorian houses, with paths leading to their doorsteps and large expanses of gardens on either side. Dad would sometimes ask me to take Mr. Hodges’ dry cleaning to his house and collect the payment for it. Sometimes he’d invite me into his front room to wait while he fetched the cash.

bachelor’s house —
brightening the interior
numerous books

His room was full of books, some on shelves, others in glass cases and piles of them on the floor beside his armchair. Occasionally he lent me a book: poetry, fiction or non-fiction. “I can see you are grammar school material,” he’d say, “and I’ll see you get there.” His words were prophetic, as I was one of half-a-dozen pupils to pass the 11+ exam and to be awarded a place in a girls’ grammar school, run by Catholic nuns. Here my love of literature was encouraged by my favourite teacher, a nun called Mother Mary Gregory, who read my poetry and corrected my grammar.

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