May 2016 and I returned my copy of “Of Mice and Men” to the shelf and there it has stayed gathering dust. This was as a result of one of the biggest shake ups the GCSEs had seen since their introduction in 1988.
We are all aware of Gove’s changes: removing the coursework component; favouring the 19th century novel over the American lot and stopping ‘kids taking the books in the exam with ’em!’ The bad old days.
Believe me, I’m no fan of Gove but I am slowly coming to terms with these changes myself but the one thing I doubt I will ever come to terms with is the fact that I am no longer teaching “Of Mice and Men” to year 11. That part is unacceptable.
I also can’t believe it was three years ago that I had to say goodbye to a book that had been a part of my life for so long.
I remember writing about this at the time, in 2016 and looking back, the old feelings of loss haven’t healed.
Don’t get me wrong. I love ‘An Inspector Calls,’ can’t get enough of Dickens and I have had Macbeth in my life since I sat GSCE Literature in its maiden year of 1988 but I really miss my old friends.
Yes, I suppose theoretically we could still teach it in lower school but it wouldn’t feel the same as the moment the year 10s knew that they are starting ‘Of Mice and Men.’ They had heard Year 11 go on about it, some already knew the ending and threatened to reveal, it was like a rite of passage; a coming of age.
I can barely bring myself to talk about the characters I miss but if I must, I would start with Slim. The often overlooked ‘prince of the ranch’ or Candy and the dog he should have ‘shot himself’. Curley, ‘with his elbows bent’ and Crooks who ‘she’ threatened to lynch.
I miss seeing Curley’s wife appear in the doorway to ‘cut off the light’ and cast a shadow over the men’s life, the ostrich feathers on her shoes or hair that hung in sausages brings me to the point of tears.
The chapter in which George shouts ‘get him Lennie’ and the whole class celebrated Curley’s crushed hand and for that magical moment it was ok to say that violence is the answer because our hatred for Curley was so intense.
But that last chapter in the brush, the heron swallowing the unsuspecting water snake signals the part of the book that I still can’t read without sobbing. As soon as George’s hand starts to shake I am gone, my throat closes and the tears blur the words that I fortunately know off by heart. Never again will I feel the collective sense of grief when, as a class, they realise that the story is over and they never get to tend the rabbits.
I have loved ‘Of Mice and Men’ through the years, I have so many wonderful memories of the classes with whom I shared this magical short story. I am learning to slowly bond with the Kamikaze pilot shunned so cruelly; Ozymandias is growing on me slowly (like mildew) and ‘Poppies’ is tearing at my heart with every year I teach it and as such, I would hate to say goodbye.
But still, I pause and my heart aches. I miss that book, I am not over “Of Mice and Men” and what’s more I never think I will be.
I miss them all.
I am sad that all my old friends remain on my shelf but even sadder for the generation of young people who will never know what it was like the day they finished “Of Mice and Men” and had to pretend not to cry in class when really their hearts were broken over a book they would never forget.