Miss Fontienne tied my laces
When I was young and attending school, I was allowed to go to school earlier than many of my contemporaries in the Elm Lane Little'uns Nursery. I wouldn't say that I was naturally more gifted at that age, although it was often commented that I was going to be the Prime Minister one day. An aspiration that I still hold dear and one that I hope to achieve. At three years of age I think it is difficult for people to truly judge a child's ability, but I was proud that I was going to be the youngest in a class of intellectual equals.
In my class that year were some wonderful characters with amazing futures. Who would have known back then that Joanie Finklestein would have had five children by the time that she was 23, been divorced three times (once because of me) and won the lottery. It wasn't a big win, but it was the first £10 win on a 'lucky dip' from the corner shop in Bidston. Frankie Brown was a polite young boy with an obsession for cowboys. Who would have known that he would later go on to become the first gay cowboy stripper gram in Mold, North Wales. Similarly, who would have thought that Sean Tillotson would do five years inside for the attempted abduction of a Russian Dancing Bear, or that Derek Cummings would nearly drown when he was 14 trying to be the first person to write some graffiti in the six metre deep end of the pool at Huyton Leisure Centre. By all accounts he had finished his work and was admiring it as a black brick from the diving school hit him on the head. He still managed to write, "If you can read this your drowning", and to my knowledge it is still there today.
The school, St. Innocence's of Skelmersdale, was not big. In fact it was one of the smallest schools in the county and was ran by a wonderful headmaster who was one of the prides of the local education authority, a Mr Thornton. He was a proud man and proud of the school that he had created, even more proud of his Year One teacher all the way from France. Her name was Miss Fontienne.
Miss Fontienne was amazing. She must have only graduated from college when she started teaching us, but her English was perfect with a fantastic French twist to her pronunciation. The dads loved her. I know my dad did. I certainly know that Uncle Phil (he was not a blood relative, but he and his wife insisted on us calling them Uncle Phil and Aunty Pippa) because a restraining order was served on him. He wasn't that happy, but was proud to be the first man to be issued with one in the North West of England. I was only young, so I didn't lust after her back then. My instinct for a good woman was obviously being sharpened and I could sense that s he was special. Very special. Even now, I find myself feeling uplifted at the very thought of her. I have seen her recently and she still looks amazing. She doesn't teach children anymore, but she studies new age therapies and places warm stones on people for about £70 an hour. Good work if you can find it.
I remember the morning I first tied my laces on my own and my parents pretty much carried me to school on their shoulders. I was feeling fairly satisfied with myself and looked forward to Miss Fontienne reading to us in the morning. I stared into her deep blue eyes for the whole hour of the story. It was something about animals and poor building laws in unpredictable weather conditions. The morning break was due and we were allowed to run off some energy in the yard. Terrence McDonald had been given orange juice that morning and was explosive. He was allowed to run all around the yard screaming for about an hour. Watching him from the classroom, running around the yard on his own, was one of the weirdest things I ever saw up to then. That and Lucy Penman's bits that she showed me and Harry Stephenson before PE in the June of that year.
There was a queue to have your laces tied by Miss Fontienne. I remember thinking, do I go up to her and show her how I tied my laces and watch her face beam with admiration or do I do what Scot Ethanshaw did and undo my shoes (he was cool and had Velcro shoes). I decided to undo my shoes and stand in the queue. It was mostly boys: perhaps even then the boys from Skem all knew what a good woman was. When it was my turn, she beamed, tapped her hand on her pale yellow skirt that covered her toned thigh. I gladly placed my left foot up and she tied my laces with a song that she sang to herself. She tapped her leg again and I popped up my right foot. Her sweet face went from one singing a song in French to one that looked like she had just bitten into a lemon. I looked at my shoe and I could see the mess. Terrence McDonald's dog had had something that unsettled it and I had ran through the unsettlement that morning. My dad had forced to scrape my shoes on the grass verge, but once Scot Ethanshaw started laughing at me I ignored my dads advice and, I guess, got used to the smell.
I saw another side to Miss Fontienne that morning. As she dragged me to Mr Thornton's office, I saw a Gallic temper that would be more familiar on the Six Nations Rugby pitch. She hardly smiled at me for the entire time I was under her stewardship. It wasn't like I didn't understand. I had, after-all, just walked dog muck over her new skirt. She was the first woman I think I had a crush on. Perhaps that was the mould setting experience that has had an affect on every crush and love I have had since. Either way, I will always remember Miss Fontienne.