At school I had a French teacher I liked. I was no good at French but I liked his manner. It was a Catholic school and he was atheist. He told me when I was in the Conti Club in Manchester one night drinking after hours that he had told the powers of the school that he would would never discuss religion with the pupils and on this condition he had got the job. As sixth formers we went to the Conti Club on Friday nights when the pubs were closed. For some reason I always drank rum in the Conti Club. I think I thought that was the existentialist drink. I believe I vomitted in the Conti Club toilets every time I went there. Years later when I lived in Paris we met up and he said he had been requsted to offer me a job at the school as a French teacher. I did not take up the offer and I said I could not easily do it because I was now an atheist. Ah! he told me. That would indeed have made it difficult as the school was now fervent in its recruitment of Catholic teaching staff. I said, how come you are still there then? He been converted, he told me. I was astonished. How had it happened? One of the priests who worked at the school (I shall call him Fr Black) had convinced him, won him over to the faith was how he put it. My old French teacher sang the praise of Fr Black, whom I had known myself. He had taught us religion with casual interest. The next I heard of my French teacher he had quit teaching and become a bookie. I met him once in a pub in Manchester, The Black Bull. The next thing, a few years later, was the news that Fr Black had been arrested for paedophilia. There was a picture of him on the front page of the Manchester Evening News looking like an degraded, snarling version of Hannibal Lector. My sister asked me had I known him? I said yes but not in that way. I wondered how my old French teacher fitted into this. A few months ago I googled him. There was a chapter in a book about 16th Century French literature he had written. It was the analysis of a poem by Du Bellay. He had gone back to teaching and had done a doctorat on Renaissance French literature. The whole book was on line. In the preface to the book the editor had singled out my old French teacher and his premature and sudden death at the youthful age of sixty. He would be missed.
You follow somebody’s itinerary from afar. There are more gaps than clues. Who knows how it all fits together?