Josna Rege

81. St. Catherine’s and Miss Tutte

In 1960s, Childhood, Education, Greece, Stories on November 2, 2010 at 11:35 pm

stcatherines.gr

St. Catherine’s was the British Embassy School in Athens that I attended from 1961 to 1963, between the ages of seven and nine, three years during which I leapt out of bed every day looking forward to school. When I first started, St. Catherine’s couldn’t have had more than about sixty students altogether, and by the time I left, there were still not much more than a hundred. There were eight to twelve children in each of my classes and I remember most of them to this day: sweet and gentle Ruth, who was Jewish and whose parents had been in a concentration camp; Sophy, whose father worked with the Embassy, and whose packed lunches came with crustless sandwiches cut into neat triangles and oranges with their skins pre-scored for easy peeling; impish Genevieve, who had two tight little Pippi Longstocking plaits and with whom I made a pact to dress like twins; Meggy from Denmark, the artist who always used orange crayon for skin color; open-faced Daphne from Canada; Gwynneth, the only person I’ve seen up close with truly white platinum blonde hair. The boys were decidedly in the minority but good sports about it: my buddy Gurel from Turkey; freckle-faced Alastair, who gave me a wide berth after I gave him a love note with the words to Neil Sedaka’s Oh Carol (I am but a fool/Darling I love you, though you treat me cruel), but with every “Carol” replaced with an “Alastair”; and Ben, the first friend to invite me home whose family ate with chopsticks. Most of us had some family connection to Britain or the Commonwealth, though in the early Sixties we never talked about such things.

The curriculum was 100% British, from the songs we sang in Music (Oh! No John, The Vicar of Bray, Sweet Polly Oliver) to the kings and queens whose reigns we slogged through in History. If my parents hadn’t had Greek friends and I the good fortune of having the neighborhood children as my playmates, I might never have learnt any Greek at all: French was the only second language we were allowed at that time. (Things are quite different now, according to the school’s website: students are prepared to be citizens of the world, and Greek language and culture are a prominent part of the curriculum.)

Our school’s namesake, Saint Catherine, had come to a gruesome end: she was martyred by being impaled on a large wheel with sharp metal spikes on its spokes. The school’s emblem, embroidered on all our blazers, was a Catherine wheel (hence the firework with the same name). Despite officially being Church of England like every British School, our education there was almost entirely secular, the only exception I remember being every first of November, All Saints’ Day, when we would sing For All the Saints, in honor of our own.

I remember the classroom teachers I had in each of my three years at St. Catherine’s: Mrs. May, who taught us how to gather, press, and identify wildflowers, Miss Tselentis, who read to us for a long period at the end of every schoolday, and, in my last year, Miss Tutte. Christine Warren Tutte was my idol, a person whom I admired deeply and sought to emulate, whom I held long in my mind and to whom I wrote years later, from school in India.

Miss Tutte and I understood each other, I felt sure. I always sat in the front row, eager and alert, taking in everything she taught us, but also everything about the way that she taught it. When Miss Tutte hesitated for a split second mid-sentence, the very word she was seeking would spring to my lips, and, a moment later, issue forth from hers. Did she see my lips move as I murmured her word, or were our minds in perfect synchrony?

One week Miss Tutte was waging a campaign to improve our vocabulary—not that she would ever have put it in those pedestrian terms. She drew a square box on the blackboard with vertical bars on the front of it, and inside, languishing, she put the word “nice.” Every time we used that word, she explained, we would get a demerit. It was still early in the week and we were collectively racking up the demerits at an alarming rate. The class was in danger of getting demoralized, and I watched Miss Tutte, wondering how she was going to handle this. Then she made a brilliant move: she used the forbidden word herself! A chorus of voices cried out triumphantly, “Miss! Miss! Demerit for you, Miss, you used the forbidden word!” And as she did a masterful job of feigning startled surprise at having been caught, I fancy that Miss Tutte gave me an almost imperceptible wink, as if she knew that I had guessed her little secret, and could trust me to keep it for her.

Five years later, at boarding school in Darjeeling, I decided to write a letter to Miss Tutte, asking after her and sending her my news. I had thought of her so often that I felt compelled to reach out and let her know. Weeks went by, and then a month, and then many months, until one day, nearly a year later, my letter came back to me, much the worse for wear and clearly having been forwarded several times, marked Return to Sender. I opened it and read it to myself, my words sounding hollow and pathetic as they echoed back at me after their return trip halfway round the world.

A few weeks ago I tried Googling Miss Tutte, not for the first time. My earlier attempts had been in vain, but this time I found two mentions of her name. The first was in a new Facebook page for alumni of St. Catherine’s. There I learned that, far from fading away into obscurity after I left the school, Miss Tutte had risen to become Headmistress, served with distinction for many years, and was still remembered with respect and awe.  The second took me to the website of a Greek online bookstore, announcing a memoir, Spiked Wheels and Little Owls, published just four years ago and written by none other than Christine Warren Tutte. I rushed off an inquiry about the book, struggling to resurrect my rusty childhood Greek in order to follow the instructions, but to date, no word; my message seems to have been lost in the electronic ether.

I don’t remember an owl in the school logo back in my day, and I must say that it doesn’t seem in the best of taste to impale an owlet on a Catherine wheel. But as a teacher myself now, if I am a willing martyr to Education, it is in large part thanks to Christine Warren Tutte.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

July 5th, 2012: I have just received the sad news from the PA to the headmaster of St. Catherine’s that Christine Warren Tutte passed away on July 3rd. I mourn the loss of a great teacher and human being. I offer my sincere sympathy to her family and to all who knew and loved her. At last I will be making contact with her through her book, since St. Catherine’s has kindly offered to send me a copy. There are some photographs of her on the school’s web site (http://www.stcatherines.gr/contents/index/1), from the last time she visited Athens, in May 2011, to attend the opening ceremony for a new building in her name. The page also bears a characteristic quote:

“I want you to realise that buildings, however wonderful and however well-equipped do not make a school. A school, housed in a shabby, old warehouse, could well be streets ahead of a glittering palace of a place offering every possible luxury and facility. It is the people inside the place that make it either a great school or just a very ordinary one……….nothing else.” Miss Christine Warren Tutte

July 30th, 2012: Today I received Miss Tutte’s book in the mail. Imagine my emotions when I opened it to find a photograph of my class, with a beaming eight year old me in the front row, bearing the caption: “the first class I taught when I arrived in 1962.”  

***

Here are some other stories set in Greece or referring to the time my family lived there:

44. Greece in the 60s: Expats and Other Animals

96. Learning to Swim

120. I once was lost (and wish I still were)

34. His Master’s Voice

107. Kalo Paska

20. The Bay of Biscay and the Gully Gully Man

26. Dolls I Have Loved (and Lost)

18. Songlines

104. Untangling

11. The Napkin Collection

138. Learning How (Not) to See

134. Darshan, or You Never Can Tell

45. A Macabre Imagination?

59. Childhood Scars

147. Hollyhocks and Hornworms

46. My Ink-Smudged Youth

50. Learning How to Fold

42. The Times Tables

 

Advertisements
  1. Hi Jojo,

    Could you please let us know how to pronounce the name Tutte. I don’t want to guess due to the number of very “nice” options.

    • Vincent, it rhymes with “but.” I have no idea of its origin and hadn’t thought of the different possible pronunciations. If it were Italian it would mean “all (women),” right? That would be nice…

  2. I really felt for you in this one! Teachers often have so little realization of how much they influence youngsters, particularly in the younger classes. Too bad this particular teacher could not have at least spent five minutes and responded to you. She deserves several demerits in my book!

    We just watched “School Ties” with Matt Damon and if you have seen it you will understand that I am
    incensed and particularly sensitive about this subject.

    • Dear Marianne, I’m afraid I’ve somehow given you the wrong impression. I never had any cause to wish demerits on her! She was the fairest, most upright teacher I had—perhaps in all my schooldays. She never responded because she never received my letter—it was returned to me unopened after all that time.
      But I’m looking forward to watching School Ties. x J

  3. Josna, I have just read your story of your days at St Catherine’s and felt I needed to make contact with you.

    Christine’s funeral will be held in Cambridge next Friday, July 13th. I will be attending and offering a tribute which I hope will express something of the feelings of the hundreds of children whose best memories of school were their years at St Catherine’s. All of us in any way connected to the school, as pupils, parents or staff, remember Christine with enormous gratitude – and a smile.

    I’m sorry your letter never reached Christine; she would have been fascinated to know of your progress in life and you would have had a reply in no time.

    • Thank you so much for having written, Mary. I will be there in spirit on Friday and feel glad to know that in offering your own tribute to Christine you will also be speaking on behalf of us all. I too am sorry that I never got back in touch with her; but her book is winging its way to me now, thanks to St. Catherine’s, and in reading it I feel that I’ll be communicating with her through her philosophy of teaching and her strong, distinctive voice. Thanks again and warm regards, Josna

  4. I miss her, last year she was there for me and we had a lovely conversation. I kept in touch each year. I build her blog to sell her book online a good many years ago and today going through some updated information for her site, I realised she had passed away. She was eternal in my mind…

    • I’m sorry if you learned the sad news from my blog, Kristina. You are fortunate to have had an ongoing friendship with her and to have kept in touch until recently.I agree that she had an eternal, an ageless quality to her; when she was my teacher she was quite young–in her early thirties, but was wise beyond her years. Please accept my condolences and warm wishes.

      • Kristina, I think I know you as Kristina Gros and that you will know me as Mrs Calothis. I want to tell you how appreciative Christine was of your help in setting up her website and blog. She spoke very warmly of you and was extremely glad to have your support. The memory of her is very much alive.

        All best wishes, Mary Gladstone

        On Sun, Aug 19, 2012 at 12:31 AM, Tell Me Another wrote:

        > ** > josna commented: “I’m sorry if you learned the sad news from my blog. > You are fortunate to have had an ongoing friendship with her and to have > kept in touch until recently.I agree that she had an eternal, an ageless > quality to her; when she was my teacher she was quite you” >

  5. Dear Mary, Yes I do remember you, how lovely thank you for taking the time to write. I am now painting her, as I remember her. I’ve had 4 children and never had the time to visit, but we stayed in touch over the phone. Would you know where she rests… http://kristinamacaulay.artweb.com

    • Kristina, Josna here. I’ve just visited your website and discovered your paintings, which I like very much, and your striking painting of Christine, which I found very moving. I like the fact that it is a work in progress. . .

    • Hello Kristina, I saw on your site that the portait is hanging in the school already. Lovely.

      Christine was cremated. Her wish was that her ashes be scattered at the school. Whether this will be possible I don’t know. I expect you have been in touch with people there and will be informed about any memorial service which takes place.

      I am so glad you developed your art and am impressed by your works. How do you find time with a large family too??

  6. Thanks Josna, I’ll give it to the school if they want it. Should take a few months to finish. Just started it last week.

  7. Christine Tutte was for a short period headmistress of a private school here in Sydney.

    • Kenneth, I had read about that year in her memoir! Did you know her then? Are you connected with that school? Reading the memoir, that time in Australia seemed to me such an interesting episode in her life. I fell out of touch with “Miss Tutte” so long ago and yet she has always been a presence in my life. I would be very interested to hear more if you or a family member of yours had memories of her. Thank you very much for commenting and best wishes to you. J

      • Josna, Some little blue birds just like to fly but they eventually come home. Hope you
        enjoy your reading.

      • I attended St Catherine’s in the mid 1960’s. Exact dates not in my memory. In my first year the school was still located in the Embassy grounds. You had to walk through the tennis courts to get to the classrooms. The next year the school moved to an outer suburb – can’t remember the name. It was a large house with relatively small grounds. I was in the upper grades and after two years there there were no further grades an I went for a brief stint to the American Community school.

        I can barely remember the names of any class mates. I remember Angela, Alice, Costa and Roger.

        My younger brother and sister also attended the school.

        Teachers there at the time included Tselentis, Tutte and Bath.

        I returned to Australia to finish last three years of high Scool here. It was some time after that, that Christine Tutte took up a postition here. I do not remember which school. She paid my family a visit one day during that period.

        • Thanks very much for your comment. It sounds as if we have had comparable experiences in terms of all the different schools we attended. We must have just missed each other at St. Catherine’s, for I had left before the move from the Embassy grounds. Still, we overlapped in attending the school when it was in that intimate setting. I knew all those three teachers you mention, and had Miss Tselentis and Miss Tutte as classroom teachers. You might write to the school and ask them to send you a copy of Christine Tutte’s book, since it may have photographs of children you recognize–perhaps even you or one of your siblings. Have you checked the History page on the school’s website? It also has several photographs of students through the years. And there’s a St. Catherine’s Facebook page (though last I checked it wasn’t used very much). We had good expat Australian friends while we were in Athens, though they returned before we left, so they wouldn’t have overlapped with you. It was through them that we were introduced to The Magic Pudding, a family favorite and one of my favorite children’s books of all time. Thanks again for sharing your memories and best wishes, J

        • I can get you a book as we managed her book website. Although it is no longer sold online, however her niece is still in touch with me. http://christinewarrentutte.co.uk/

  8. Thank you Kristina. I have already somehow managed to make an internet purchase of the book as soon as I first stumbled upon Josna’s blog.. It seems to be coming from macaulaycreative with I assume is associated with you.

    I forgot to mention that I had also paid a visit to St Catherine’s in 1977 with my wife and baby daughter. By that time the school had moved into even larger purpose built premises.

    • I did not attend St Catherine’s until 1979, so it was before my time. Christine had given me a lot of photos of the early years. No doubt you’ll be in one of them, happy to email you a copy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: