Monday, 17 December 2012

231: A Rare Bird

Miss Sims wore an orange A-line mini-skirt, white plastic knee-high boots and a black hair band as thick as her eyeliner, and she taught our lower sixth maths class.  She may have been the first young woman in the Welsh Valleys who dressed like a Mary Quant model.  Mr Roberts, the Headmaster, blamed it on her loose Cardiff upbringing.

Until then we had been taught by a succession of men and maiden aunts.  Modern women didn’t study maths and certainly didn’t teach it as a subject.  There was an arts teacher, Mrs Watkins, who at 31 was the closest in age to us girls, but maths and science just didn’t attract young women.  That was until Miss Sims.

I’m sure she strode into class that first morning in slow motion.  As we caught our first sight of her, we fell silent, gawping at the vision in front of us.  Collectively awakening from our stupor, we scrambled from our chairs, pushed them under our desks and behind them stood to attention.  Although it must have been her first day in front of a class, she was as assured as any of the veteran Misses at the grammar school.

“Good morning, ladies,” she said.  No teacher had ever called us ladies before.

“Good morning, Miss Sims,” we chorused back, already ranking her as our favourite teacher and guzzling in her image to dissect after class, at lunch and walking home at the end of the day.

We had something special in Miss Sims.  We had a stylish inspiration, someone who believed girls could and should study anything boys did and would do so at least as well.  She affirmed our choice of maths as an A-level subject and rather than feeling like the band of geeky sixth formers we had expected to, we became Miss Sims’ Girls.

Rules on quadratics and differentiation were interspersed with occasional gems like keeping your eyeliner pencil in the fridge if the weather was hot.  Miss Sims’ Girls had the sharpest kohl lines in the whole of New Tredegar.  She taught us how to integrate and 3-dimentional geometry, alongside how to create a gentle bouffant that held your hair just right and nestled your hair band exactly where it should be.

As I grew in confidence under Miss Sims’ tutelage, I began to think I might apply for University.  My parents were against it at first, indeed for many months they refused to agree.  I was expected to train as a secretary and hadn’t they already indulged me enough with sixth form study?  The only reason they attended the end of year parents’ evening was to ask the school stopped filling my head with modern nonsense.

I never found out exactly what Miss Sims said to them, or whether she spoke to them together or individually, but she entranced both of my parents as much as she did us girls.  My mother commented afterwards how much she liked the curl in my hair.  My father muttered something about being proud of the first in the family to be a professional and then found an especially intriguing article in his newspaper.

We were originally six in Miss Sims’ Girls.  We became two doctors, a teacher, a statistician, an auditor and an academic.  My parents attended each of my graduations and I was able to invite Miss Sims, by then Mrs Worthington, to attend my PhD graduation as guest of honour. 

I saw my father and her share a look and he thanked her, quietly but as serious as I have ever seen him.

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