Be a Man , My Son
Norman walked carefully up the steps onto the stage. It was the last day of term at Allerton Preparatory school. He was dressed smartly in a red and black striped blazer and grey flannel trousers, a badge on his left lapel indicating he was Head boy. He was just thirteen years old and would be moving on to senior school after the summer break.
He found the white dot on the floorboards centre stage, fixed his eyes on the clock at the far end of the school hall and paused for the audience to settle. A hush descended, Norman took a deep breath and began with as clear and confident a voice as he could muster
“I am going to recite a poem by Rudyard Kipling “
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…"
So far so good. He had remembered all the instructions he had been given at the rehearsal. As he continued, the words flowed more easily and the butterflies in his stomach began to settle. He concentrated on not rushing and pronouncing each word clearly and confidently,
"…If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim…."
He continued steadily through the piece, remembered the short pause at the beginning of the final line and made his voice rise in crescendo for the finale.
And - what is more - you’ll be a man , my son.
He had done it! He allowed himself a smile and let out a sigh of relief. Looking into the audience, his mother was clearly visible in a bright floral dress and hat , his father giving a discrete thumbs up and smiling proudly at his son’s courageous performance at end of term Speech Day.
No applause was permitted on this formal occasion but as he went down the steps at the side of the stage his English master, Mr Morgan, patted him on the shoulder and said gruffly, “Well done, Fisher,” for Norman Fisher was still a schoolboy, not yet a man.
Norman enjoyed English and found Mr Morgan an inspiring teacher so he worked hard in his lessons. They had been studying Kipling recently. Most of the boys already knew the ‘Just So Stories’. Mr Morgan had expanded their knowledge of the author and taught them the background to his poetry. At an exhibition at The Imperial War Museum the class had viewed original handwritten letters between Kipling and his only son, Jack. Jack had been propelled rapidly from boy to adult by The First World War. The poet had had great ambitions for Jack, encouraging him to join up with the Army.
Tragically Jack’s adult life was cut short when he was killed in 1915, at the age of only18. His parents were informed he was missing, believed killed in action. They hoped against hope that he would return one day, perhaps having been wounded or captured, but like so many families their hopes were never realised.
Today Norman is facing a new challenge. It is more than ten years since he was that young boy reciting the speech day poem.
His job reference now describes him as a “fine young man”
He looks carefully at his reflection in the mirror, dressed in a smart suit a new name badge on his left lapel. He smiles at his reflection, strokes his freshly shaved chin, checks his mouth to make sure there are no awkward bits of food stuck between his teeth.
He looks at the clock and walks down the long corridor. It is his first day at work. His dad and his English teacher would be proud of him.
He remembers the instructions as he stands in front of his new audience, pauses and waits for them to settle, again takes a big breath and says,
“Good morning Class 9b,” in as clear and confident a voice as he can muster.
“Good morning Mr Fisher” chorus the young voices of his new class.
Rudyard Kipling's (1865-1936) inspirational poem 'If' first appeared in his collection 'Rewards and Fairies' in 1909. Lines from Kipling's 'If' appear over the player's entrance to Wimbledon Tennis Club’s Centre Court ). The poem was voted UK favourite poem
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