A beloved teacher

He was said to be a French Count. How did he find his way to the Penang Free School to teach English Literature to a bunch of Sixth Formers?

Dear Mr de Turville with his sad blue eyes and thinning curly hair. He worked us hard. There were many of Shakespeare’s plays we had to read and remember. Also a lot of poetry. One of the earliest poems he taught us was Alice Meynell’s Renouncement which I hold dear to this day. The first line reads, “I must not think of thee….”. It ends very powerfully.

But when sleep comes to close each difficult day,
When night gives pause to the long watch I keep,
And all my bonds I needs must loose apart,
Must doff my will as raiment laid away,
With the first dream that comes with the first sleep
I run, I run, I’m gathered to thy heart.

The Romantics – Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelly and Byron figured prominently in our syllabus. He assigned us books by Oscar Wilde, Austen, Bronte, F Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dickens and the list went on. It was as if he wanted to share all that he knew during the 18 months he would spend with us

However, it was not all hard work. He was kindly too and welcomed us to his home, a spacious bungalow with a huge lawn in Jones Road. The sandwiches he served were delectable. He taught us a hilarious game called Sardines. I don’t recall exactly how it went but it had us clambering all over his house and garden. There were quiet moments when we listened to classical music, mainly Mozart, Chopin and Beethoven. One day he played Donizetti’s Lucia de Lammermoor. When Maria Calas sang the famous aria from the opera, I held my breath. It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.

His biggest project was the year-end school play. He chose a comedy called “Worms Eye View” written sometime in the fifties. He coaxed, cajoled and patiently showed us how to breathe life into the play. Acting did not come easily to us. But our parents, family and friends who came to see it erupted in loud laughter at all the funny parts and applauded lustily at the end. My sister Faridah attended too. She went on to become an outstanding stage actress and the darling of Malaysian theatre. I believe she quickly saw that an acting career was not for me.

I took the University Entrance Exam, passed it, and left for Singapore. A few years later Mr de Turville returned to France. Something must have gone horribly wrong with his life. He took to the bottle and drank himself to death.


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