Give Us Your Gum, Mr Fisher

Looking back at how writers become, how they are created has fascinated me recently, I often question how I got here, how I became this thing that writes, that will sit happily in front of a screen tapping away, filling the space with language.

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My science was filled with Greek myth but at the end of an upstairs corridor in my secondary school lurked the past, in the shape of my Geography teacher, Mr Fisher. Fisher in the eighties was something straight out of the 1940s, he wore tweed and a pipe was glued to his mouth each time I saw him. He would yell at the boys as they lined up to come in to school, ‘You, you there, line up or I’ll knock you through those railings and turn you into chips!’ Nowadays, that would be a phone call to social services or found on twitter. The truth was he never hit me, he never hit any boy I knew, the threat was always full of humour. When I came to his class he read my name aloud and sighed, he asked, ‘Are you any relation to…’ and said my cousin’s name. I nodded and told him what relation he was. He sighed louder and asked, ‘Are their brains on your side of the family?’ Fortunately, I proved very quickly that I had them when I produced a report on a road that fascinated me, a road that had been driven through the Amazon forest. He asked me why I had written it, I told him because it appalled me and to understand evil you had to write about it. He nodded. Mr Fisher was a writer too, he would often pull out short stories, the tales were based on his childhood, his time growing up through the war, his insistence that he chased troop carriers crying out for gum rather than grenades. Give us some gum, chum, he would laugh at the class, light his pipe and puff away. He hated the new way of teaching. He thought intelligence should be rewarded and stupidity should be sent out to sit in a cold corridor and think about why they stuck their finger in a Head zipper pull until it went purple (that boy never learnt how risk is always a gamble, and the house always wins; he sadly died in a car crash before he became a man). Mr Fisher judged but did so in a way that was always full of laughter. He always seemed older than he was and when I had to drop geography for music, I never did understand why I did that, I felt that I let him down. The Amazon still calls to me. The lost places on the map. The places we destroy.

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