Mister Dore (V): The Stuff That Life Is Made Of

FAST forward twenty-six years to 2012, Larkin’s line would come to me in a Forum letter I had banged out to the local papers, late in the night of August 12, after I had read, earlier that evening, a piece by Dr. Lee Wei Ling, headlined “Why I’m Against the Olympics,” published two days after the London Olympics concluded.

It was a huge, half-page affair that touched on the disappointment of losing, frowned upon the “boycotts, doping, bribery and terrorism,” and excoriated “the huge sums of money spent, with little or no concrete improvement to human welfare.” The idea of the Games as a circus, a “most prestigious” one at that, figured midway before ramping up into an attack at the very spirit and value of sports. Her arguments, like a diatribe against sportsmen, splattered at us like cud. Alas, most of us poor readers weren’t cows: there was no gustatory pleasure to be had from her cynical, bitter bombardment. Continue reading

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Mister Dore (Part IV): Musings on ‘Stuff’

HE was mad about cycling. I often caught him zipping down Farrer Road near my home in the late afternoon. Once, two or three years after we had already left school, my classmate, Siew Chye, spotted him cycling past the Holland Village bus-stop with a cast in one foot. He may not have been a hot hunk, our outdoorsy, sweaty and oily-faced Mr. Dore, but he sure turned heads and inspired bemused looks.

He was also a water-skiing enthusiast, revealed to us one morning when he showed up in class with a bent-out-of-shape pair of glasses pressed up against his bridge, so that one eye seemed to be pinched upwards, and the other somewhat suffocated, sucked into its own uncomfortable socket. This, we’d soon learn, was his beaten-up backup, but what ever happened to his other? Continue reading

Mister Dore (III): You Mean You Don’t Know ‘Ejaculation’?

HE always took the time to scan every single line of a poem with us, didn’t matter if it was Owen or Larkin. He always explained too, without judgment or condescension, words we were expected to know, such as “ejaculation”—we all did, except one of our classmates: What’s with you, M.G.? Where’ve you been?  No, he didn’t sneer at her like we did; he just gave her a blow-by-blow account of what happens in the male anatomy, amid titters, so that she eventually understood what the “wet spark” in Philip Larkin’s Dry Point meant, and how, when it came, “the bright blown walls collapse” and everything after was just “sad scapes,” “ashen hills!” and “salted, shrunken lakes!”

Don’t know what “bollocks” means? Yes, he’d explain. Don’t know how to describe someone who’s temperamental and unpredictable, he’d supply the word: mercurial. Don’t know how to portray words that have an edge and a bite? Continue reading

Mister Dore (Part II): Explain, Explain, and Leave Nothing To Chance

WHATEVER it takes for us to see, feel, hear, taste, smell, and above all, understand, it would be part of his class, not some go-look-it-up-yourself initiative dedicated for a later hour—at home, in the library, at MacDonald’s, or none of the above if you happened to be just plain lazy, like P. and K., the two students who gave us all the honor of learning the word “indisposed”—the word Mr. Dore would invariably utter when he looked up from his attendance register and not find their shadows. The Dore philosophy, then, was simply this: “Explain, explain, and leave nothing to chance.”

That’s why it pains me to see how students could study a poem in school, say Billy Collins’s On Turning Ten, for instance, and come away not knowing what mumps or measles or psyche means.

Hello, Sir! Hello-o-o-h, Ma’am!

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Mister Dore (Part I): The Meaning of Cud

WHO ever knew cows had more than one stomach? I didn’t, not until the day Timothy Dore did his cow act, chewing on grass, ruminating, chewing some more, lulled into a faraway gaze of utter contentment. No, his subject was not geography or agriculture; it was the pity of war, and the word in question: cud.

This was thirty years ago, perhaps twenty-nine, when I was a first- or second-year student in Raffles Junior College. A Wilfred Owen class was in session, and our poem was Dulce Et Decorum Est. Continue reading