I’ve written fan letters to some of my heroes, but I haven’t met them. If I did, I would go to pieces, speak Esperanto, and detail to them their own successes as they search anxiously for the exit. I know this because not only did this happen when I met John McEnroe in a gym in New York, but it also happened when I met the author of a book about John McEnroe at a wedding in London. I cornered him, hands on the wall on either side of him, and told him about his book. I even told him where he got the title of his book from. (The title was ‘Being John McEnroe’ and it’s a quote from Peter Fleming who said he had seen McEnroe win matches just by being John McEnroe). The author nodded and acted surprised when I told him this. I understand that he and his family moved to the west country, right after the wedding.
But a while ago, I began a correspondence with my English teacher from school. I wanted to thank him. He was a great teacher; imaginative, encouraging and understanding. I was so inspired by him I even wrote extra essays for him. He was charismatic, slightly dishevelled, and he drove a Golden Bullet sports car. He couldn’t have cared less if we smoked crack in the classroom and he told us tall tales about his ties. One was all that remained from a huge brown bear that he attacked and killed in his own kitchen when living in Canada. ‘A huge arm, covered in thick brown fur, grabbed me round my neck. I knew at once it wasn’t my wife’ he said. ‘But it’s knitted!’ we shouted happily.
Our correspondence continued, sporadically, until he noted that I lived near one of his many, many children. Finally, a few months ago, we met. He hadn’t changed at all, a huge bear of a man, amused, interested, interesting, perceptive, curious, and wise. When we talked about school, he said in passing that he had never once punished or even told off any of his pupils at school. And I realised, he wasn’t just creative and passionate about English, he was kind. He is one of my heroes for his generosity and benevolence, his legacy of inspiring hundreds of girls just like me, his creativity (he’s written one book and is finishing another which he says is ‘really very good’) and for being a force for good. He’s well into his 80s (I always thought he was, even in 1979), and lives life with great enthusiasm. I’m so lucky to know him. He’s loved by many. He loves many.