Now it has to be said—no-one likes an emo-blogger (except maybe other emo-bloggers, and who cares what they think?).  I, Benedict Ambrose, scourge of the fey and soppy, have tried to keep this blog free of navel-gazing bilge.  For the most part successfully, I flatter myself.  But there are certain events in one’s life that inevitably cast one upon choppy emotional waters: being received into the Unam Sanctam after a long journey, falling base-over-apex in love with a gorgeous gal, heartbreak, bereavement, coming close unto death, mistakenly dropping a tenner instead of a fiver into the collection plate, etc.  And if more than one of these things happens at the same, one’s upper lip could be in serious danger of flaccidity.

Just as well for my readers I’m made of sterner stuff, eh? [Blows nose and re-pockets hankie]  But I have been prone to some rather soppy thoughts recently, and many of the less egregiously sick-making of them have to do with gratitude.  My second-favourite Canadian authoress, Margaret Visser, has just published a book on that very virtue, I believe. [Is gratitude a virtue?  Discuss. (Please show your workings.)]

It is a fairly obvious and easily acquitted duty to give thanks for the small occasional favours one has been done, by kith, kin and strangers alike; a fortiori for the (generally rare) acts of true magnanimity with which one is blessed.  But there are some kinds of personal debt of some considerable magnitude on which it is easy to default.  I will use but one example to represent many, which I hope may help acquit myself of one particular obligation as well as to illustrate the kinds that can all-too-easily slip through the net.

For the first four years of my primary (elementary) school career I was little better than a daydreaming dolt.  Industry was not congenial to me and I frequently experienced acute dismay at the amount and complexity of the work expected of me.  I remember one particular occasion on which I was asked to copy a picture of a hedgehog, and thinking to myself, “What, all of it?”  A wave of Sartrean nausée washed over me at the disgusting and multiform complexity of the task before me (truly, I was an intellectually precocious dolt)—all those spines and all that hair and how to distinguish with my poor pencil between them!  I gave up and picked at my tank-top instead.

Anyway, that’s the kind of clay my poor pedagogues had to work with, and heaven help them.  But then, per miraculum (I’ve been saying that a lot recently), along came Mrs Stewart.  The very thought is sweet!  Here was a teacher who finally got into the inside of my nine-year-old bonce and poked into flame the embers within.  She first of all praised my artwork (of a simpler sort than verisimilitudinously copying British mammals: “Your mother should have that framed!”); then it was my arithmetic, and then (you may regret her encouragement here) my very first haiku.  I swam, I splashed, I wallowed in the positive attention – and of course I flourished under it.  Most amazingly of all, she continued to teach my class for three consecutive years, which saw me to the end of my time there—and what years they were. 

She was no pussy-cat though, I may tell you.  She could reduce us all to utter imbecilic obedience with a single “How dare you!”  She was fiery-tempered and warm-hearted and red-headed.  When she taught us about Mary Queen of Scots, I wondered if she might actually be her (or at least be related).  In truth, she was far more like Elizabeth I of England (although, I would be very surprised if Mrs Stewart had eviscerated any Catholics—unless they had chattered through one of her lessons).

If you are reading this, dear Mrs S, and are wondering if it is you I am describing, I can tell you that you taught me between 1981 and 1983 in P**k Pl**e Primary, and that you most likely turned the entire course of my life around with your encouragement, discipline and strength of character.  I owe to you my self-confidence, my love of learning, of literature, of history – of much, in short, that makes me who I am today.  Soppy, navel-gazing and over-confessional though it may be to recount all of this—I thank you, Mrs Stewart.   There it is.