Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A French Teacher

French Teacher

Mr Feutren (Fruity) isn’t from France
but Brittany. Important. Make no mistake.
Something –– anger? passion? –– has shorn his face
to a bald, beak-nosed, hunched-electric presence.   

Yes, he fought with the SS during the war.
A Breton nationalist, why should he hide
what he believes? What he did was justified
(though I’m not sure who these justifications are for).

The Irish, so stupide! Hard to believe
how little we know, and how can we make a start
when, in restaurants, we ignore the heart
of artichokes, to nibble at the leaves.

Now he has lost patience and swoops to wrench
some slowcoach from his desk. I am in his sights
and will be next. Because of (or despite)
whatever he fled, he teaches excellent French. 

When our French teacher (in St. Conleth's, Clyde Rd. Dublin) died in 2010 he left a load of papers of 'historical interest' (along with a bequest of £300,000) to The National Library of Wales. This created a minor scandal because of his historically interesting past as a Breton nationalist/collaborator in the Bezen Perrot, essentially an SS unit. He even had a proper uniform and title: SS-Oberscharführer. He fled after the war, first to Germany then Wales and eventually Ireland. Though I never learned a word of French (or much else) in school, he was a vivid presence, and apparently (according to my school friends) a brilliant teacher. So I've included him (above), in a sequence I'm working on about my school days (ironically titled 'Academic').

 PHOTO: SS-Oberscharführer Louis Feutren, ID photo for his Soldatenbuch, c. early 1945. (Bezen Perrot archives)


Kiddo said...

Dear Mark,

many thanks for this posting and for the powerful poem.

I well recall seeing fellow classmates, for the slightest transgression, being flung across the room, punched, or having themselves pulled up out of their seats by the hair of their sideburns. One particular incident of rampant fury will remain burned in my memory until the day I die.

Any St. Conleth's boy who was taught French by Fruity speaks it with a flawless accent, though only on account of the fact that he would take your face in his powerful hands and, in a usually painful way, mold your jaw and tongue into the required shape to allow a perfect sound to be formed.

I also vividly recall Fruity scoffing at the Irish for their inability to eat artichokes! I remember him laughing at his recollection of some restaurant diners chewing endlessly on the leaves, rather than on the soft flesh at their base. His recounting of this incident was delivered with unashamed contempt at his host country's culinary ignorance.

To this day I shiver when thinking of him, and remember him with deep awe and true horror.

Kieran Owens, Class of 1974

Mark Granier said...

Thanks for the recollections Kieran, and for confirming my impression that Fruity was one of the fiercest teachers there. Of course, a good measure of violence and/or sadism was par for the course in those days (as enthusiastically dispensed by our beloved leader, KD, with his pet 'biffers' and ritual humiliations). That said, we probably got off very lightly compared to those at the mercy of the CBs.

BTW, I must be that rare exception, a St. Conleth's boy who doest's speak French with a flawless accent, since I never learnt French, or much of anything else, in any class I dozed through.

Mark Granier said...

Must thank you again Kieran, as, in my magpie fashion, I have now brought into the poem your wonderful recollection of Fruity's views on the Irish approach to asparagus.