Allan in December 2012, in front of the new house he was building in Spain
Allan was my 5th class teacher in 1960, when I was 10 and he was perhaps 22. He was an intense and flamboyant young man who made an enormous difference to my life.
He was the first person ever to take me seriously, encouraging my interest in writing and in languages. He told me Françoise Sagan had written Bonjour Tristesse when she was 15, so he saw no reason why I shouldn't get on and write a novel. He lent me a German textbook and exhorted me to talk to the German girl at our school. (He also tried to encourage an interest in sport, unfortunately with less success.)
He was the first person ever to call me Val.
As a teacher, he was lively, passionate, and inspiring. He spoke to us as equals, and his lessons seemed like shared adventures. He could also be absolutely terrifying, particularly in the quest for good handwriting and tidy work.
Allan left our school in 1961. I moved on to high school the next year and heard no more of him, but I never forgot him. Thirty years later, when public access to the Internet came along, I searched for his name and found an address for someone I was pretty sure was his mother. I wrote her a diffident letter, explaining that I'd like to find Allan and thank him for being such a wonderful teacher, but I heard nothing more.
Some years later, in 1998, the phone rang at 8 o'clock one Saturday morning. I was still in bed. I picked it up and a vaguely familiar voice said "Hello Val, it's Allan". I had to say "Allan who?". I was quite surprised at the answer, and at the fact that he was ringing from Spain, where he had been living for many years.
He'd left Australia for good in the late 1960s and had never been back. I was so cross when I learned that he'd been living in London - in Hampstead - in the early 1970s when I was living in Highgate, practically next door. How good it would have been to catch up with him then!
We struck up a correspondence which continued, off and on, for several years. It nearly didn't start: my first letter to Allan's Malaga address went via "Malaya"!
Allan's letters stopped just after Helen moved to Europe in 2003. She had some singing gigs in Spain in 2008 so I tried to find him to let him know. He was a cultured man and I believe he would have loved her voice, even though his taste tended towards opera. Before I went to Europe in 2009, I made another concerted effort to contact him, hoping to be able to see him while I was travelling, but I couldn't find him.
I finally heard from him in February this year, via email for the first time, although we'd started talking about email in 1998. He was ill, but engaged in building a new house. I wrote back. In June, his sister informed me that Allan had died.
Page created 31 December 2013; last updated 09 January 2014