The day I discovered Che Guevara in the lift

Mrs Gibson was my art teacher.  The art rooms were on the top floor of a tower block in the middle of the school. Half of the tower block was the boy’s side, with its own doors and staircase, the other the girl’s side, ditto. In between was the pottery room, a small space that could be accessed by both sexes. The Pottery Room was a weird no-mans land, a gateway for occasional incursions into enemy territory.  I never once saw it used for pottery.

I was a shy sort so had no interest in the Pottery Room. Until, in the lunch time after our last A-level art exam, Mrs Gibson took us in there to celebrate. She closed the doors so we would not be discovered by the other stuffy teachers, and cracked open a bottle of sherry. I was drunk in one minute and stayed that way for a couple of hours, which would have been alright, if I didn’t have English Lit A level in the afternoon.

 

Even so, it never occurred to me that Mrs Gibson was a bonefide leftie bohemian rebel (they all lived in that London or somewhere).  But soon after schooldays were over, I bumped into her at Hamilton Square station. She was in high spirits and head scarves, and she stepped into the lift as I was stepping out. She brandished a large poster at me. ‘Che Guevara!’ she shouted at me, exultantly, as if she were at a rally.  Mystified and dim, I wanted to ask her what she meant. But the doors closed, the lift descended and I never saw her again. I heard a rumour soon after that she had been fired.

Now when ever I see this incredibly powerful image, I cannot divorce it from the remembrance of that moment in the lift.  I think of my ‘special teacher’ (we should all have one), who was never thanked, and of all the things I didn’t learn about the world, or notice about people, because I had my nose in a paint box.

Art isn’t everything, you know.

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