When I was at secondary school, back in the 1970’s, we were always seated in alphabetical order, A to Z, front of classroom to back. Being a “W”, I was always at the back of the class, seated between Adrian Wareham and Ian Wilkinson. There were no concessions to kids with poor vision in those days and I think the system was designed for the convenience of teachers when taking the register. In our second year, we were stationed about a mile from the main school building in what was referred to as “The Annex”. In fact, this building was an old Victorian school; brick-built with an enclosed playground. The Annex was a bit of a backwater, slightly more relaxed than the main school since the head and deputy-head rarely visited. My English teacher and form tutor that year was Mr. Thompson. I remember his classes fondly, particularly the readings we did from John Buchan’s novel, Prester John; an ideal adventure for 13 year old boys whose understanding of the world didn’t extend further than their own small town in the Northwest of England.
English classes took place mainly in the afternoons and, in summer, it just so happened that the combination of my desk position, the configuration of the Victorian sash windows and the sun at that time of year, meant that, uniquely among our class, I was bathed in sunlight at the start of the class. Mr. Thompson would often enter the room, notice the illuminated Watson and declare, “the sun shines on the righteous”.
At the time, I took this as a compliment but thought it rather strange that a teacher should show favouritism so openly. It was only later in life, much later actually, that I became aware of the true meaning and realised that it was not favouritism at all, but most likely a little joke which, I guess, he knew few of us would understand.
The phrase, of course, is a partial miss-quote from the Bible (Matthew 5:44-45). The full quote from the New International Version is: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Effectively, it means, everyone is the same, both the good and the bad and we should love our enemies. Fine words indeed and I guess I’ll never know whether Mr. Thompson was just having a little joke at my expense or whether it was just a throw-away line he was using out of context. It doesn’t really matter to me which, it remains one of my abiding memories of school life. Which is why it came to mind this week as I strolled along towards my latest climb in the Lake District fells on a gloriously sunny day. Righteous or not, the sun really was shining and the sky was clear blue.