My old English teacher, Mrs. Hulme, reigned supreme in a rusty portakabin on the outer edges of my grammar school’s grounds. Double English with her on a freezing Monday morning was always a delight as she sat hunched behind her desk, as miserable as the rest of us at the thought of seventy minutes of Chaucer or Shakespeare. You can only take so many toilet and codpiece jokes and they were waaaaaay over the head of yours truly.
How I managed to escape this literary hell with ‘A’ grades in both English Language and English Literature is beyond me. I hadn’t an earthly about the imagery of D.H. Lawrence and Tennessee Williams was a Streetcar Named Desire too far. But I bumbled through so must have been listening to at least some of the wisdom of Mrs. Hulme. She no doubt had dreams of becoming a famous poet and novelist. She ended up with a class of bored teenagers in a temporary classroom in deepest, darkest Tyrone.
I did garner one educational gem from her, however, that I’ve clung too tightly throughout my writing career. Her pathological hatred of the word ‘nice.’ ‘It’s a lazy word, a nothing word’ she would seethe between mouthfuls of lukewarm coffee. To use it in one of our essays was effectively signing one’s own death warrant. There was nothing nice about being nice when so many more worthy adjectives were begging to be utilised.
To this day, you will not find the word ‘nice’ in any of my literary scribblings. You will, no doubt, find many other grammatical howlers but I’ll not fall prey to the wrath of Mrs. Hulme who is either a very old lady now or quite possibly reading this from beyond the grave with pursed lips and an arched eyebrow. I’d like to think she would be pleased at least one of her flock inherited her love of the written word. That would be nice.