Fast forward to my final year at Woodside Middle School where, at 12 years old, I was taught by Mrs Tones who knew I was infatuated with history and especially the Russian Revolution (I can still hear her groaning when my question in the school general knowledge quiz asked about the last Tsar). As soon as Mrs Tones told us that we had to research and write a project on an aspect of 20th Century history, I knew what I wanted to do. However, Mrs Tones advised me against focusing exclusively on the Russian Revolution, so after some negotiation I decided to devote my attention to a sweeping history of Wars and Revolutions in the 20th Century.
Having moved house in the last month, I unearthed the project. It looks a little battered now, but I am still immensely proud of it, and especially the A++ and two Merit Awards Mrs Tones gave me for what she called "Work above and beyond the call of duty". I look back today at the naivety of my narrative (devoid of any analysis whatsoever): a whole paragraph on the Second World War - the same amount of space devoted to the Spanish Civil War, the Hungarian Uprising and the Troubles in Ulster. The Russian Revolution got three pages (one on Lenin, another on Russia Before the Revolution, and a third on the Revolution itself). Even the Vietnam War merited two pages (plus the inclusion of quizzes I cut out of my weekly Battle comic). The project ended with an index and a bibliography.
So it is with a middle aged gaze - a heady mixture of pleasure and tender melancholy - that I look back and recognise this as the first tentative steps on my academic journey. Little did I know at 12 years old that I would one day teach the Chinese Revolution at University level, or that the Hungarian Uprising, the Suez Crisis and the Vietnam War would each be chapters in my PhD thesis and first book.
So in sincere gratitude to Mrs Hustwick and Mrs Tones, and in appreciation for their work as teachers, I reproduce some of the pages here (including my terrible portraits of the main protagonists in the history). Thank you both for encouraging me, tolerating my
idiosyncrasies, and helping me to begin my travel along a very exciting and rewarding path. You represent both everything that was splendid about the Woodside Schools, and all that is noble in teaching.