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Monday, November 02, 2009

Dr Arnold Moon

I heard recently that a dear teacher of mine has died, Dr Arnold Moon. I was very sad because I had meant to track him down and write him a letter explaining the impact he had on me and other pupils. Brilliant teachers who inspire are so rare. At my school, Plympton Grammar, there were only three who met that criteria: Dr Moon, Mrs Bush (English) and Mr Brinkley (languages). The rest were average teachers who went through the motions.

Dr Moon taught religious studies, which I did at both O and A Level. It's down to him that to this day, I can talk knowledgeably about the Old and New testaments and I can still remember the differences in the account of the death of Jesus between the Synoptic Gospels and St John.

However, ask me about 19th century Europe, a period I did in History for both O and A level, and I remember nothing.

Mr Moon (he became a doctor later) was slightly eccentric, and because of the subject he taught was sometimes the butt of jokes by the snide Mr Dunton (history: average teacher.) I think he resented the fact that we seemed to look forward to religious studies after double lessons of Metternich and Bismarck.

When Arnold Moon taught religious studies he somehow managed to ground it into everyday reality, and when you're teaching 16 to 18 year old adolescents whose heads were full of romance and David Bowie, this was quite an accomplishment. I remember the long discourse we had about Saul of Tarsus, later St Paul, and how he suffered from manic depression. And how Dr Moon talked me out of Scientology when I began flirting with it because of one of the Spiders from Mars.

I heard via my mum, who sees Miss Bartrim socially (PE teacher) that Arnold Moon moved into a retirement or rest home in Portsmouth. I intended to track him down but I never got round to it. How I wish I had. But there is still time to contact Mrs Bush, who is in a rest home in Plymouth, and Mr Brinkley. I urge you all to do the same, because special teachers need to know the impact they made on impressionable youth. It's all too fleeting.


Scuola di Atene said...

Thank you so much for writing this obituary. Arnold was a friend of mine when I lived in Plymouth. I met him at a public lecture where he was sitting in his mac, using a pencil to roughly open out a brown envelope and chuntering to himself "this will come in handy for some notes". He introduced himself as a philosopher and, when he had established that I was genuinely interested in the subject, invited me to a very informal philosophy discussion group that he held in his home. I was the youngest of the group and totally inspired by him. He always spoke fondly of his students at Plympton Grammar. I moved away in 1990 and, while we exchanged Christmas cards for a while and had the occassional phone conversation, I largely lost touch. I last saw him however in 2006, while holidaying in Devon, at which point he lived near Ashburton. here is a picture of him taken on that ocassion:

He was, as ever, a delight to talk with and took me and my family to a cafe for a cream tea.

I have a copy of the book that he wrote "Held Captive by a Picture" - which is a defense of Christian beliefs written from a Wittgensteinian perspective.

I find it hard to believe that there was no obituary in the local paper. Do you have any other details?

Gail said...

I wasn't sure where Dr Moon was living so I couldn't find any local obituaries: I did search the Plymouth papers but found nothing, but understand he moved away. It was fantastic to see your picture. Many thanks!

Alan said...

Just found this, Googling down memory lane. Mr. Moon was, I confess, a target, but perhaps even as an adolescent I could see that he was a genuine person concerned about his students. Thank you for eulogizing him. I think you are a bit harsh on the rest of the staff though, also received good advice and help (recognized too late) from Mr. (Doc) Foster (Geography/Geology), Mr. (General) Gordon (Physics), Miss Crouch (French), Mrs. Carter (Maths), and Mr. Liddell (Basketball). Have to agree about Dunton, too concerned with his own image - such as it was.
Thanks again and take care.

Gail said...

You're right Alan, I was a bit too harsh. Big shout out for Mr Liddell - we had some wonderful times on expeditions for Duke of Edinburgh's award with him and Miss Crow. Also Miss Bartrim, who once awarded me a 1 star athletics award, even though I'm sure I never earned it.