Mr Britten was headmaster of our two teacher primary school for the last term I was there. He was very different from his predecessor, he drove a bright orange ‘K’ registered car, the most up to date registration possible in the spring of 1972. He played the piano with one finger and much humour and he was very fond of reading. At the end of the day he would read to the whole class, the book still remains clear in the memory, Bran of the Moor. He wore his hair closely cropped and was probably not so many years older than those he taught.
Snatches of conversations still remain in the memory. He once asked, maybe in the context of some English comprehension exercise, what was meant when it said that someone was middle aged.
“They are in their thirties”, I answered.
It seemed a reasonable answer. In 1972, people died in their sixties and thirty was halfway to sixty, so it was the middle.
Mr Britten smiled. “I hope not”, he said.
Years later a philosophy lecturer looked at our class of young students. “Your outlook on life changes once you pass forty”, he said, “then you realize that you really are going to die.”
So middle age was reached at forty, not thirty, I was ten years out.
A friend from long ago emailed this morning. The brother of her close friend had died at the age of 46, while her best friend at work, of a similar age to herself, had been told there was nothing more that could be done about her pancreatic cancer. It had been a sad week, she said, but her friend wanted her to carry on behaving as normal, whatever “normal” meant.
My friend was a great fan of Kate Bush and I searched YouTube for “Wuthering Heights”, only to realize that it was a song from thirty years ago, the number that had made Mr Britten smile.
There are moments when those blissful, hopeful days with Mr Britten seem infinitely attractive. Days when the world seemed young and life seemed to stretch out forever, days when even being thirty was such a remote prospect that it could be discounted from your mind.