At this time of thankfulness and good cheer – yes, we non-Americans sometimes do our thanking, and thinking, at Christmas rather than late November – I want to reflect on the importance of teachers, guides and guardians who complement our parents in helping to shape who we are in our formative years.

I was not one of those brilliant kids who had it all figured out. I needed adults to show me the way and make me aware of how I could become a better person. A lot of the people I’m calling out are a generation older than me – obviously – and since I’m no spring chicken there’s a good chance they are pretty elderly. Perhaps, therefore, this isn’t the best medium for doing it, but certainly one of the easier ones.

So, in kind of chronological order, here are the teachers and influencers I would like to thank. In most cases I only list their surnames, because I only knew their surnames.

– Mrs Batty, my primary school teacher who set me up to pass my 11-plus exam.  Mrs B hardly ever lost her temper with me, which is no mean achievement. I last saw her about 5 years go, and even though she must be about 234 years old by now, she remembered me and still had that twinkle in her eye.

– Mr Thomas, my maths teacher, who allowed my parents to prevail upon him that even though I hadn’t scored well enough to get into the fast stream for O levels, I was worth a shot. Teachers, take note: it’s good to be flexible and bend the rules once in a while.

– Mr Jeffries, my fast stream maths teacher, who made maths easy, again no mean achievement.  He also played in the same table tennis team as me, which made him Mr Jeffries by day and Tony in the evening. He once entered the classroom as I was getting to the punchline of a ‘bottom’ joke involving the planet Uranus and effortlessly eased into a comment that we should all sit down on the other polite word for our rear ends.  My American friends: in England we pronounce the planet with the accent on the second syllable.  When you’re 14/15, this is about as funny as it gets.

– Mr Harvey, my table tennis coach, who sacrificed perhaps 1,000 hours over a decade teaching me the finer points of competitive sport. For any sport to thrive, you need great facilities and great coaches.  He was a great coach, and a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan too. Legend.

– Pete Knight, my table tennis tennis team mate, manager, driver and mentor. Always Pete, sometimes Pedro, or Pietro. I dread to think how many cups of tea he and his lovely wife Jan have made me over the years. I think it’s around 1,135. They are the only 2 people in my home town I stay in touch with.

– Mr Carter and Mr McNeill, my two Latin and Greek A level teachers. The 3rd member of the classics teaching triumvirate was Mr Taylor, who had left in the summer after my A levels for another school. I stayed on an extra term after A levels to study for and sit the Cambridge entrance exams. Messrs Carter and McNeill gave me extra, unscheduled hours every week to help prepare me. Yes, I know, for those of you under 40, teachers did put in extra hours for their students’ edification back then. Unthinkable now.

– Mr CR Whittaker, Dick to his students, my Director of Studies at Churchill College. Sadly no longer with us, and appropriately remembered by his peers and former students at a dinner a few years ago. Tolerant of my appalling abilities in Roman history, in which he was a world authority, and of my frequent minimal studying due to the demands of being student union president of the college, he still managed to steer me to an over-achieving 2.1 degree, and all of it with a smile that would have put a crocodile to shame.

To those who made a difference to my life, I thank you, in the rather inadequate form of a blog post. You all made a difference, a good one, and I would like to remind you that as teachers and mentors you are incredibly influential in terms of the paths we take in life.  I literally wouldn’t be where I am today without you.

Some of you made a bad difference. You were old school, with pun intended, and you don’t get a mention.