Biographical Non-Fiction posted July 17, 2022

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Meeting Mr. Brian Noon

Inspiration never too late

by Kevin McNeany

I was what you would call a 'nice' kid. Polite and softly spoken. But probably a bit too nice. Bullies can sniff out the scent of a victim as a pack of hounds picks up the trail of a fox. I hated my first day at school. One minute I was holding my Mam's hand in this unfamiliar, intimidating place, the next she had disappeared into the ether, leaving me with a friendly looking lady, and a class of grim faced , scowling children. I was months away from being part of the following year's intake, and therefore small in comparison to the older kids.
I cried on that first day, and joke to this day that I cried every subsequent day until I left at the age of eighteen.
About an hour before Home time, We were informed by the redoubtable Mrs. Devanney that she would read us a chapter of J.M.Barrie's ' Peter Pan'. I was enthralled by the swashbuckling heroics, and like Oliver Twist, wanted some more!
I come from a violent and dysfunctional home, and am I suppose, permanently estranged from my father. Credit where it's due, however, he did teach me to read by the time I was about three and a half, and I've always found reading to be somewhere to escape to in tough times.
In my youthful innocence, I ingenuously asked Mrs. D if she would read the chapter again.
With a knowing twinkle in her eye, she said that if I could read the first paragraph without any mistakes, she would read us all not only that chapter, but the next.
Retrospectively, and with no small sense of satisfaction ( or smugness), forty two years later, I recall her open mouth as I fluently read the paragraph.
True to her word, she read us two chapters, gaining me a bit of grudging respect from some of the class at least. She always had a soft spot for me after that. May she Rest in Peace.
Fast forward eleven years to sixth form and 'A' Levels. I actively hated school by this juncture in the narrative. It was an ex grammar school run by priests, with all the associated sadism and brutality that entails.
The issue of bullying was left in abeyance; an unspoken code of silence enforced by teachers and priests. I hated the majority of my classmates, and despised authority with a passion. I almost never handed in homework on time.
Enter Brian Noon, a sincere and kind English teacher who tutored me through an English Literature A level. We studied Edward Thomas, Chaucer, and King Lear. My results visibly and almost immediately improved. His enthusiasm for literature and poetry is the main reason which means that I still write thirty one years later. I last met him at a poetry evening in Newcastle. He was pleasantly surprised when I shook his hand, telling him how inspirational he had been.

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