people n their stories: mrs f

artwork is by Alec Osato​​​​​​​, student of Deyana Matt, Art Teacher​

I’m very grateful to meet so many unique and interesting people. I love listening to their stories and it seems such a waste to turn a blind eye to them. I’m gonna start writing about them. The most interesting stories often come from the most unexpected people.

 I was getting ready for the journey to London in somewhat of a rush after finishing my 9-5 job. I had to be on the bus by 6, on the train by 7, at pre-drinks by 8.45; and in the hectic rush the moments of peace I had were salvaged on the bus between my stop and the station.

For want of a more diplomatic term, I’ve been trying to get my shit together lately. I’ve not liked me and the way I’ve strayed from myself. On that bus ride I got the intuitive feeling that something from my past would revisit me that evening; and it would be an opportunity to learn or finalise something. This kinda stirred up some anxiety as there is a lot of aspects of my past which make me feel nauseous.

I got on with my journey and just about managed to make the train. Desperately scanning for an empty seat amongst the crowds of people- I find one, next to my old German teacher.

Ms F was a long-term supply and taught me year 11 German, as she was covering for our original teacher. She was a unique and intriguing character. She let the class run riot, and she didn’t try to change a thing. Instead, she took on the unique approach of adapting her teaching style to the personalities of the students. It seemed to have worked because everyone in that class passed and a good majority passed with flying colours.

The class was chaos, but she was never stressed or angry. In fact she often couldn’t help but laugh. She was not like any other teacher I had and to be honest I was surprised that she managed to kind of fit in and teach in this society with this set of rules, at this strict Catholic school. I was so intrigued by her- but obviously, as a teacher and a student do, we went our separate ways once I left and I forgot about her.

I wish I could convey to you the way she’s just so scattered about and yet so calm. I’d like to become more like her in that respect. It seems like she’s perfected the art of taking nothing seriously while at the same time remaining stable and grounded in life.

“Excuse me, are you Ms F?” I asked as we sat down. She greeted me with a smile and although she couldn’t place me straight away, we reminisced about the class and all the memories we had of it.

For example, I remember once the class clown and his sidekick devised a plan in which he would hide inside the cupboard at the beginning of the lesson- and she would find him when she went to get out the exercise books. Things didn’t go to plan as when prompted to get the books Ms F protested. ‘Get your own books!’ she said as she was trying to catch up with the first few minutes of the lesson she had missed.

It was only when she went to do the register a good 10 minutes later that the student answered ‘yes miss’ from the bottom of the cupboard behind her. Then she realised the joke she hadn’t been let in on. She still laughs about it now.

In that hour and a half train journey we really did speak about life, the universe and everything.

It was refreshing.

Ms F grew up in a small, average area of London. That’s as much of a description as I can give. She biked everywhere and never learned to drive. She thought it was unnecessary and didn’t like the idea of being a burden to the environment. I learned that she had an older sister who is a bit more logically minded than her. Firmly of the belief that one shouldn’t just leap into university once you leave school (before it was cool to think that), Ms F turned down a scholarship at any German university of her choice to venture out to France and spend some time out there. It was all about the adventure to her, nothing else seemed to matter because as she reminded me multiple times in our train journey; everything is temporary.

Ms F did end up spending some time at a university in Germany where she dabbled in lots of things, allowing her curiosity to flare up and lead the way for her. She learned astrology while she was out there, but got lost when numbers began to crop up in lessons as she had never done maths in German before.

Eventually Ms F came back to England and did a degree at the university of Glasgow, where she met her husband. He was an artist. She was a singer, linguist, teacher, artist, general creator. She spent many years singing at open mic nights in various bars over Europe. She told me that she eventually turned to art for good because musicians kept letting her down, but jazz was her main game. She was influenced by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald.

The couple had two girls, 3 years apart, and moved down to Suffolk to raise them.

With the realisation that you marry an artist for love and definitely not for money, Ms F began teaching as a supply, translating, and doing various other jobs here and there to become the main breadwinner for her children. Despite the fact that there was little money, her children seemed to benefit an awful lot from their upbringing.

She was happy that her children grew up seeing both their parents were fulfilled and content with what they had. They were rich in life. She believes that had a great affect on her children. They were raised with perspective, not fear. The sense that things will be alright if you just follow the way. They were raised in a colourful house- with artists, musicians, generally interesting people coming and going. Art hung up everywhere, music blasting, an inclusive attitude, a sense of adventure in their blood. The encouragement to just go for it. There was never a sense of lack or being trapped, and that was what was important to them.

Ms F told me about her girls and how proud she is of them. Her eldest, now 29, is working a job very high up in the government after getting a degree in RPE at Kings College London. She had offers from Oxford and Cambridge, but didn’t get in. It was discovered later that the reasoning was because she had undiagnosed dyslexia, but she wasn’t disheartened. It wasn’t meant to be.

Her youngest has just finished a degree, I believe. I forget which line of work she is in but Ms F told me that she was just as proud and happy of her. They’ve got different heads on their shoulders and Ms F hopes that the youngest doesn’t compare her success to her sister’s. For one reason or another the youngest is going to spend some time in Copenhagen and is insistent that her Mother comes with her as she can’t bare the thought of leaving her.

It made sense to me why she was such a good teacher despite being so unconventional. There were no expectations there, and in encouraging each student and each of her own children to see the light and potential in themselves- they found their own way. Force is resistance, and resistance usually does not work in a persons favour.

I think she understood the restlessness in the kids being forced to sit and listen and comply and be a certain way. When the students realised that she wasn’t expecting them to be anything more than they are, they were content and things seemed to work out for them because of their contentment.

 I guess seeing the students silly rebellion more as a reason to smile helped her get through without getting frustrated. People see your light when you take care of yourself and your perspective. I always admired her fluidity and the way she just went with things to make them work.

Ms F’s husband passed away last year following a long-term illness. She’s chatted with me about having spent the last 6 months watching Netflix and trying to find her way, but she seems to be getting back on her feet and seems to be surrounded with love. She was going up to visit a friend. Also to escape a looming sense of disheartenment that seems to be hanging around her due to her lack of adventure. I found that very relatable. Even people who seem like they’re loving life go through their ups and downs and life altering periods of turbulence. That’s a comforting thought, I guess.

She shared with me that she was going to put on an art festival in the near future displaying all her husband’s art work; she has a lot of creative friends and family and she knows how to put on a festival. She still attends them as often as she can. Jazz singers, art works, and good vibes. She offered to let me write about it all.

You really never know what’s going on in a person’s life, let alone a teachers. Everybody has a story, everybody is interesting in their own way.

‘Jobs are temporary, everything is temporary, and you don’t get brownie points for telling the truth. You can keep it in your head that if you feel like you’re compromising yourself, or if things don’t work you will move on, but just keep things while you need them. It’s all about growth.’

I learned so much from such a small journey. It was such a breath of fresh air to see someone who had lived a lifetime of jumping from one place to the other, doing what makes them happy, not reading too much into it- and still being well off for it. Still managing to be happy and somewhat carefree. Free at least.

We are taught that ‘if you don’t have thousands of air miles, you’re a nobody’ (to quote Ms F). We’re taught that if you don’t learn to drive that’s a box you never ticked (although, knowing to drive makes life in Suffolk a lot easier). Ms F knew what was for her and what wasn’t and through letting her soul just be free she raised two very successful and loved children, managed to live life exactly the way she wants, and she spreads happiness and light where she goes.

We are taught that you need money for this and need money for that- need money to be happy. To an extent, that is true. We’re not living in a dream world and ultimately paying your dues is a part of life. We are fortunate to even have a sofa to crash on while we get back on our feet.

Though you may need that temporary job to be able to pay your way through life, sometimes it’s more detrimental to ‘do as we’re told’ long term. Slotting into a life that just doesn’t suit us with a job that just isn’t doing it for us.

For fear of ‘not living right’ we don’t take that course or get that diploma. We continue to stay stagnant, saying ‘when I’ve got that mortgage I’ll be happy’. Then what? It’s ‘When I pay off that mortgage I’ll be happy’. Then it’s ‘I never got a chance to live- I was paying off the mortgage’.

We’re taught that if people don’t have it together we shouldn’t give them the time of day or have them in our circle, we’re taught that creatives and people who believe in the soul of the world are delusional nutcases, we’re taught how to be sad. We’re taught that cynicism is somewhat valuable and that negative thoughts are the truth.

We’re taught that you need to be ‘someone’ or do ‘something’ to make the world a better place but you don’t. Putting focus on what you ‘need’ to do will let the opportunities to do good pass you by.

Your main priority is to be happy, and when you are happy, the world is a better place for having you in it.

What I took from Ms F is that life is like a long piece of string with knots in. You don’t need to know where you’re going. If you’re not the sort to find happiness in routine and ‘stability’, open all the doors you can for yourself and leave them that way. Take what you need and leave the rest. You will always have something to fall back on, and adventure will be the driving force of your life.  

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