John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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Mr. Dawson — English

Early Days

September 1962 to July 1963
 1. English in my second year at Fleetwood Grammar School[1] was taught by a young man, bright and breezy in manner, but rather snobbish; he spoke with a very “plummy” accent in a pretentiously superior way. His hair was smartly Brylcreemed — a bit like The Saint[2] in the TV series. In contrast, his handwriting — as seen initially on the blackboard — was almost illegibly scribbly and untidy.
[1] Second year at Fleetwood Grammar School
[2] See also The Saint.
“Are you being obscene, Cooper?”
 2. It was from Mr. Dawson that I first heard the word “obscene”. It came about like this: David Doyle, more than once, in descriptions of imagined violence to someone, spoke of that one “with a spade in his stomach and a pitchfork in his neck.” And, bored one lesson, I sketched a caricature of Mr. Dawson with just such implements projecting from him. I was startled from my distraction when, suddenly, there he was, standing in font of me, snatching up the paper and then studying it. “Are you being OBSCENE, Cooper?” he eventually asked.
 “What does that mean, sir?” I grinned impertinently.
 He handed me a Concise Oxford and I sniggered when I found the word. I couldn’t really see, though, what was obscene in the picture, unless Dawson had misinterpreted the position and purpose of the spade.

“That the sun is shining”
 3. One day, he burst into the classroom with the words, “That the sun is shining”, and promptly sat down and scanned us, waiting for a response.
 I put my hand up: “Sir?”
 “I think…”
 “Oh, you
THINK, do you?” he sneered.
 Dawson’s utterance was his introduction to teaching us about subordinate clauses. A main clause, such as “The sun is shining” could stand alone by itself, but a subordinate clause, such as “That the sun is shining” could not. I’d broadly got the idea right — that what Dawson had said was not complete — even though “I think” was not itself a subordinate clause.

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