Ian Thomson was born in Blackburn, Lancashire on Halloween, 1949, in a different world, where coal was delivered by horse and cart, as was sarsaparilla and ginger beer on a Saturday afternoon.
Like any boy of his age, he wore sleeveless tank tops, which were short, and shorts which were long. He would prick tar bubbles in the street and long to be a mythical hero with winged sandals and the patronage of Athena. It was not to be.
He had a blessedly traditional education at St John’s C of E School and was a chorister though he never stunned with a top C, nor, as a boy scout did he have his arms poulticed with badges. However, he did well enough and had the scabbed knees of a proper boy instead. At camp in a farmer’s field in Tockholes (we were too poor to go anywhere exotic like ‘abroad’) he had a pet earwig called Clarence who only had one pincer which rendered him safe and amiable.
At eleven, he won a scholarship to the grammar school where he found himself to be a very small fish, and where class came to matter quite painfully at first. There was some mediocre teaching but he was lucky enough to be nurtured from the third form onward by three inspirational masters.
He was rather good at French and English, but abysmal at Maths. He loved Latin but found it unnecessarily hard and would go into reveries about how ancient Romans could possibly have spoken to each other with any fluency: ‘ I’ll have those dormouse pies, please. Wait while I fiddle in my purse for a few sesterces and stick the verb at the end.’ Then, he would be awoken by ‘Thomson, what is the third person plural, perfect tense of obliviscor?’ This was his Old Etonian form master, whose hair was pomaded into tiny curls and whose voice slipped into your guts like a stiletto. His nicknames were ‘Twig’, after a character in a forgotten play, and ‘Plum’ in the Sixth Form, thanks to the Beano.
He did a lot of acting. His first role was as a milkmaid (in French) though he graduated to Prince Hal in Henry IV. He went up to Downing College, Cambridge to read English, having never been further south than Pwllelli. At first, he was unhappy and thought he should have been at drama school, but he soon became bedazzled by it all and in the end took a first, went on to do research and was awarded a Bye-fellowship. He was too young to appreciate all this treasure and no doubt prodigally wasted much of his youth. But that is not a new story.
Life accelerates, or living it does. He went on to teach at Leicester University. He moved to Wales and wrote a lot of stories. He taught in schools in London and was briefly Headmaster of a theatre school. He has taken risks, lost out and been on the skids in the suburbs. He has worked as a deputy hotel manager, a doctors’ receptionist, office manager to a scaffolding firm, and as an auxiliary nurse in a geriatric ward.
He has retired from teaching and lives in Lincoln under the shadow of the most beautiful cathedral in Europe. In Winter he can see it from the garden; it invites him to aspire.
With thanks to
Blackburn with Darwen Library & Information Service for selected images at the head of this page.