I count myself blessed. I have a great home, a loving partner and even if my work can be precarious – I work for myself and often it’s either feast or famine – I do seem to get enough of it, and I generally enjoy what I do.
But I had a wonderful mentor and role model in my English teacher, Miss Turner. She was my favourite teacher and she taught my favourite subject. Through her, I stretched my previously rather limited reading tastes to include not only the classics, but the new – and she guided me gently through the shocks of reading James Joyce (for god’s sake, who TALKS about wetting the bed on the first page?) and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, where frankly, I would have given up after the first page alone.
She never married, was devoted to whiskey and cigarillos, travelled to places I could barely pronounce and had a shock of auburn hair which she ran her hands through when frustrated. She occasionally wore odd coloured shoes where she’d got up too late and rushed from the house and while this might not have been a big deal, Miss Turner would turn up to school with one pink and one green.
I adored her and talked honestly to her about my fears of going to university when I really didn’t know what I was going to ‘do’. I was an only child of a single mum, not well off at all and I thought perhaps what I ought to do was get a job.
She listened carefully and suggested that I could simply try it. She told me about how it would be, and convinced me that the learning would be good, regardless of the way I chose to earn my living and it would help me get a better job. She encouraged me, told me I was bright enough, so why not?
Because I trusted her, I believed her, did A levels, and went to Leeds to study English. In the meantime, she sent me postcards from places she’d been, told me of books and plays I might want to see and generally treated me as a sensible human being, able to make my own choices.
She was, in short, my role model, my mentor. I count myself as blessed to have known her, to have experienced her gentle, almost unseen guidance – suggesting books which would open my mind, showing me that single women could and should travel the world.
Not all girls have this. They look around their worlds and the people they see have never been to university, don’t read, may have ambition but don’t know where to get advice about making those a things a reality.
Our chosen charity for the rest of the year is The Girls Network, an organisation focused on building confidence and aspiration in teenage women from some of the most disadvantaged communities in the UK – they believe ‘if she can see it, she can be it’.
As someone who blossomed under the mentorship of a gifted, dedicated teacher, I love the idea that we’re supporting this endeavour and do our own bit through the Four Spaces network, trying, in a small way, to open doors for other women – to give them new experiences, enable them to hear different views, different perspectives which may inform their own.