This week’s To Be Read Podcast was on the theme of fathers, fictional and not. I enjoyed both the shout-out for Greenstar and the discussion, but I also enjoyed it for reminding me of a person who showed me one way to be a man.
Langdon Jones was one of the sports masters at my secondary school. He taught me rugby. I was smaller and less bulky than I am now (and those who have met me will know I am not immense), so I was not a natural rugby player. Most of the sports masters saw my size as a failure of effort, but Lang accepted not everyone is born with an England cap on their head. And so he had a less earnest approach to teaching sports than the other masters; on one memorable occasion, he thrust the ball into my arms, picked me up, and charged down the field and over the touch line.
Even as a boy my view of life was somewhat wry, so – while I would have preferred a non-participatory role – if I had to play rugby, that is probably how I would choose to score a try. But that is the smallest part of why I remember him.
Lang was also an English master. Not an “all sports masters teach a subject” English master, but a passionate advocate for both creating and experiencing art.
And when I was in the Lower Sixth, he held political discussion and practical thought lessons.
I have no recollection of thinking it at the time, but looking back he was a superlative role model for masculinity. A broad, muscular rugby player, as manly a man as you could imagine, celebrating the power of writing to move people to tears and publicly taking joy in poetry; showing students that it was right and proper to care about others and to have complex opinions.
But even before I saw him as a role model, I knew he was special. So I never sullied the memory of that try by scoring another one.