Mr Furlong

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The house with no furniture

Bob Furlong ( or Robert Furlong, or Sir to us) was, in my secondary school, my history and geography teacher for various years. Again, I’m not sure as to how old he was, because when you’re young everyone seems to be a little old, but I presume he must have been in his late twenties; so not that incredibly young, but also not so incredibly old. Mr Furlong was a fine cricket player, and played for Rickmansworth (our local town) cricket team, and as fame had it, he lived with a group of other teachers at the bottom of Scott’s Hill, which was very close to the cricket club, and it was said that they didn’t have any furniture in the house. So basically they were more or less squatting in this place. They were obviously paying rent, but they didn’t feel the necessity for furniture.
I don’t know, but perhaps also even for Mr Furlong it wasn’t the most wonderful thing in his life, to teach at the William Penn School, and one would get the impression that he would sometimes go to the pub at lunchtimes, and have a couple of pints to reduce the pain of monotony. For me, Mr Furlong seemed when I was younger, before I actually knew him, before I actually had him for classes, seemed quite a severe and frightening sort of man. He was bespectacled, and also he had a large red birthmark on the side of his face, which made him look a little bit daunting and vicious, and he also had a slight beard as far as I can remember.

Cricket Ground

I remember once, my father, on going to a ‘teacher parents evening’, where the parents can ask questions to the teachers, and the teachers can tell them how well or otherwise their off-spring are getting on, my father was under the impression that Mr Furlong was under the influence a little bit, and feeling a little bit weary. When speaking about a school trip we’d been on, he remarked,
‘Robert said, “ Oh, look Sir! There’s a mosaic!” So he must have taken some notice during the lessons!’
In history, I’ve no idea what we were studying, but I remember one afternoon he was causing hilarity by reading from the book. Thinking about it now, perhaps it wasn’t something deliberately done to infuse humour into the text, but he put pauses in unusual places which made the passages appear funny to our glee and amusement and we burst into delighted giggles for the way he was reading. To which Mr Furlong said his wonderful phrase, which I will always remember, and I do actually use in jest to my own students from time to time to keep them happy.
He said, ‘Do you know what I like about you lot?’ Pause.
‘Absolutely nothing!’
To which we all burst into laughter. And on this particular afternoon, when Mr Furlong was feeling a little worse for wear, he then huffed and marched out of the classroom, saying,
‘I can’t stand you kids!’
So, perhaps it wasn’t meant in humour, but, wondering where he’d gone and looking out of the window, we saw him walking around. He went to the library, and then just walked around the school I think for ten or twenty minutes before returning to our quietened room.
When I studied geography with him in my later years, for my CSE (certificate of secondary education exam) our chosen place of interest was Winnipeg. The only thing I can remember about Winnipeg, is that it’s in the middle of nowhere, and they grow a lot of wheat. I think I passed the exam. But that was a typical thing of British education of that time, inasmuch I knew something very slender about Winnipeg in the middle of Canada, but I knew absolutely nothing about English and British geography; I wouldn’t have known where anywhere was. I scarcely knew where London was! And so another pitfall.
I do think perhaps that even today this is still something which is a fault of the British education system, which is not true certainly in Italy; in geography the first thing you learn about is Italian cities, and also in Switzerland to a lesser degree.

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