Heaven

 

On the whole I enjoyed my years in primary school, especially the last two years in the class of Miss Patterson. I would guess that she was of Scottish descent and I thought of her always with affection as a kind of elderly spinster, to use the terminology of the day. In fact, I surmise in hindsight that she was about forty.

Her style of teaching was a joy and imbued in me a love of learning that was partially eclipsed, apart from some notable exceptions, by my years in grammar school and university. But that's another story.

Miss Patterson’s approach to education involved several outings to places that were clearly intended to broaden our horizons. One outing took us to Virginia Water in Surrey, and I now believe the intention was simply to give us London children a taste of the country. A preference for country living has remained with me to this day.

On other occasions we visited the excavation of the Temple of Mithras at the Mansion House in the City of London, which probably created my interest in archaeology, the houses in Fulham where some of the pre-Raphaelite painters lived and worked, the Tate Gallery to see their paintings and Westminster to see the Houses of Parliament, the ministries in Whitehall and Trafalgar Square.

These and other visits enriched the primary school curriculum, but more than anything, what impressed me about my years with Miss Patterson was her broadmindedness and her willingness to encourage her pupils to think for themselves.

One example that illustrates her tolerance has stayed with me, perhaps especially because it followed on from my talk to the school on astronomy when sports day was rained off. It happened like this.

During a lesson on religion or more probably religions, plural, one of the girls in the class asked about heaven, i.e. where it was and what it was for. I think Miss Patterson answered that some believed it was where God lived, so that he could look down on us to keep us safe. Typically I recall muttering that that was not so. I must have muttered it more loudly than intended because Miss Patterson then invited me to explain what I meant. Her manner was entirely unthreatening, and she encouraged me to give an explanation of my view. I said that I didn’t think heaven was up in the sky because I had studied the ‘heavens’ with my telescope and there was no 'Heaven' to be seen. I added somewhat controversially that there was no God up there, either.

Instead of beating me to a pulp for contradicting her, or having me burnt at the stake for heresy, Miss Patterson simply said that that was another point of view. Such tolerance seems to be in short supply in some quarters these days.