Interview 5: Morgan

aged - 91

 

"6 colours and the word dapper come to mind when I think of Morgan and my conversation with him regarding his fashion choices and fascinating life story. We get to talk to each other after waiting 5 months for him to recover from the virus that’s been plaguing him all winter. He tells me he’s about 80% better. “I’ve lost a lot of weight,” he says when, half an hour in, we’re looking at part of his jewel coloured collection of smart jackets. He says he feels he’ll need to get that back before they quite sit right again on his shoulders, before he feels, that is, as he’d like to when wearing them; but I think he looks very dapper indeed already. He greets me as a vision in blue, wearing what, I think, he considers a fairly relaxed outfit; blue V-necked sweater and matching trousers. The shirt underneath is light blue but it’s the shade of the sweater and trousers (so perfectly matched) that is the first hue to strike me and which I now associate with him. Colour charts seem to suggest its Persian or perhaps Sapphire/Gentian blue but, any which way, it illuminates him.

At one point in the conversation that follows (in response to a request from me) he proceeds to put on, over this ensemble, one of the colourful but otherwise inanimate jackets he’s bought forth, and had lain over an armchair. And of course he chooses the one that best co-ordinates with the outfit he’s wearing today. The jacket he models is pale blue, with pin-stripes of white, and he rushes out of the room to find a matching silken handkerchief for his breast pocket; thereby displaying his impressive sensitivity to (even impromptu/demanded) smartness.

“I’ve often been called dapper,” he’d tells me at the start of our conversing about clothes. “Because I like always to match my handkerchief and tie…When I wear that jacket [he points to the one before us that has a matching waistcoat beneath] I always wear it with a pocket watch on a chain.”

The other 5 colours that will seem to me afterwards to sum him up best are the colours of the other jackets that remain lying prone before us. After again referring to colour charts for accuracy I decide they are arguably best described as: Tea green; pale Ochre/Bronze brown; Burgundy red (with a Navy blue lining); Navy blue (with a Gold satin lining); Olive (almost khaki). There’s also one made from a tweed weave (the one with the waistcoat) and, I point out, that it coincidentally has very fine stripes of each of the other colours woven through it. Surely such choices (such colours) are woven through his life. When he hands me a book of his poetry called ‘Not all the Pieces fit’ I see the front cover design (by Sophie Clausen) is of the shape of a man in profile with his face overlain by jigsaw pieces. And the colours of those pieces are, of course: Gentian blue; Burgundy red; Bronze; Tea Green; Gold (the only one that’s missing is Navy).

A framed close up colour photo of a slightly younger Morgan, is placed on the coffee table between us. It shows him in a very warm looking room, in a jacket and tie in shades of golden brown and yellow/gold. I ask if he relates to the jackets before  us with specific memories of events attached. His only concern however, seems to be that when he wore and/or wears each of them they're suitably choreographed; his look should be always complete/replete and, well, dapper!

I suggest it’s his creative nature that makes him as bold as he is with colour (and indeed fabric/texture, one of the jackets is as soft as suede, another is made of a brushed wool and several have silken/satin linings). Morgan is a writer, a poet more specifically, mostly (at least since his retirement). He’s interested in honing feeling through honed/polished language, it makes sense then that his dress sense is similarly polished. After she died Morgan established the Petra Kenney poetry competition in memory of his wife who had also been a: “very accomplished writer”, though more in respect of short-stories. The award ran for 14 years. Morgan tells me how he’d managed to set it up by appealing to and (getting on board) a couple of well known people, via his contact and friend Sir Alan Ayckbourn. That had been enough to give the event gravitas and from there it took off. “We presented the awards at Canada house in the end,” he tells me with apparent reverence. “Can you imagine it! It’s very beautiful inside.” Morgan’s whole attitude is in fact of genuine humble disbelief at his own achievements, a sort of ‘imagine, me, there, doing that’ attitude. He puts much of his success in life down to being “lucky” and when I tell him of my uncles’ response to being thus accused (“Yes I am lucky and the harder I work the luckier I get”) he acknowledges that hard work has indeed been a factor, but he seems more inclined to credit those who’ve been good enough to help and support him, along the way.

Before he became a published poet, he’d spent his free time directing theatre; first in Canada and then in Filey, near Scarborough, on the Yorkshire coast (where he first met Sir Ayckbourn). Before that however, he’d been a teacher of French and German in Hamilton in Canada. Morgan is a Canadian National and the fact that the specific teaching methods he personally developed (and wrote about) became the chosen methodology of every Province in the country he puts down to three things. That is, being in the right place (doing the right thing) at the right time + again his own luck and other people’s support. The director of the school he was teaching at supported him, for example, by allowing him to spend an hour a day (of paid school time) at the local teaching college teaching language teachers how to teach, after this had been requested by the Minister for Education in their Province. “In the 50’s and 60’s writing and reading were taught you see” he tells me “but there was no oral teaching of languages at all, even in Britain.”

I remember my own GCSE French exam having a very significant oral element and it seems I have Morgan to thank for that. He realised the import of actually speaking a language in class in order to be able to learn it, he practised and developed this method on his own students and eventually ended up writing 42 published books on the subject. They included such titles as: Passeport au Plaisir: Bonne Route! (Passeport Au Plaisir 1) and Salut! Passeport Francais 2 (both of which I've found are for sale still on Amazon) and: Heath structured French reading series; Chez Moi; Découvertes etc. These (42) books changed the methodology of teaching French, first in French speaking Canada but eventually Internationally: “I turned down a publishing offer from Oxford University press, can you imagine, it was prestigious!” It seems the editor there was set to make certain changes that Morgan couldn’t live with. So Painters and Hall and then DC Heath published them in the end. “Over 7 million copies sold”, he tells me with due pride. He shows me some press cuttings concerning his work in this area:


 

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At the time of our conversation Morgan has recently turned ninety. On his birthday he received both a certificate from the current Prime Minister of Canada acknowledging his achievements and a letter from the current Governor General that reads (in part): “…over the years you have experienced the worlds many cycles and revolutions of change, your own personal history is forever woven into the tapestry of Canadian heritage.” What an achievement indeed.

Morgan married his British wife Petra in Canada where they lived for many years but he was able to take early retirement at which time they moved to Britain, to Filey, where she came from. I suggest to him that being a teacher is a little like being on stage and he whole-heartedly concurs. “From the moment you walk in and close the door…” he agrees and adds, “…and you often have to control a rather unruly audience.” So I wonder aloud why it was directing that appealed to him rather than acting. That is, when his focus moved first to theatre; before progressing again to prose (one of Morgan’s stories made the finals of the Ian St James Awards sponsored by Parker Pens) and eventually to poetry. “I’m concerned with the feel of the whole of a play, its heart beat,” he tells me. It seems that the part of one single character part isn’t sufficient for him “I just love people” he tells me too and, in fact, standing at the centre of all the actors involved in a play is arguably even more comparable to controlling a class of high school students and thereby directing their learning.

By the end of our conversation I’m left imagining all Morgan’s students, actors, poetic words/metaphors and teaching methods painted in, of course, just 6 colours. In my minds’ eye they’ve been woven together by his hand and formed into the garments of a very dapper man.  

On a second visit Morgan shows me this wonderful garment also from his wardrobe."

- Stephanie Smart

Please click below to see Morgan reading the haiku he wrote that inspired the paper boots titled Stampede. To see pictures of the boots please click here: