When I first started Tweeting as a History Girl, I needed a name in a hurry. I became a little confused, and thought somehow that the username had to be as cryptic as the password. I came up with DWUSKID and since that day, I've had many people wondering (a)why I didn't simply go by my real name and (b) why the mysterious DWUSKID?
Once this post has gone up, I'm going to try and change my profile on Twitter and become @adelegeras. But DWUSKID comes from DWU and DWU was my History Teacher for all the years that I was in the Senior School at Roedean. Dorothy Butcher was her real name but she was universally known as DWU, which I'm afraid was short for Death Warmed Up. She must have known this, I'm sure, but she never referred to it.
She was so called because she was extremely pale and skinny and always seemed old to us. In all the years I knew her, she never changed and indeed it was very hard to imagine her being young. She wore pale sage-coloured or grey or pale blue suits and pastel blouses in yellowish beige and cream and her hair, which I imagine must once upon a time have been a magnificent shade of red...that golden red verging on strawberry blonde...was now the colour of very pale straw. It was also wispy and there wasn't much of it. What there was she gathered into a kind of loose bun at the nape of her neck. She had big teeth and a slightly receding chin. She spoke quietly. She was the opposite of imposing - almost ghostlike in the way she drifted about the place and perhaps her nickname had something to do with her spectral aspect.
But the wafty langour hid a very sharp and clear intelligence and a real love of History. I know she was a good teacher because she made so many of us love her classes. I can't remember exactly how she taught, after all these years, which is odd. I can still do an imitation of my French teacher, and I could also reconstruct an English lesson taught by either Miss Sturgis or Miss Godfray, but DWU's shostly qualities seem to have spread over her classes and all I can remember is: I loved them and I was very fond of her.
One of the reasons I liked her so much was (and this is very common, I'm sure as a reason for pupils liking teachers) she liked me. She also liked what I wrote for her. There's nothing so encouraging for a pupil as a teacher's admiration and praise. I still recall a remark she once scribbled at the top of one of my exam papers. I was answering a question on Louis XIV's foreign policy (this must have been just before O levels, I imagine...maybe even Mock O levels). I obviously hadn't worked very hard on foreign policy, but by heck I knew tons about Versailles and the Sun King and so forth. I got a very good mark for the question. DWU wrote: You gain this mark for your understanding and love of the period. A few more facts about the foreign policy would not have come amiss.
I dropped History after O level and am still not good about 'the facts,' though I do still love the period atmosphere, the clothes, the art, the music: the feel of different times in the past. It was DWU who made me realize that there was more to history than treaties, Corn Laws, battles etc. There were people. There were, above all, STORIES.
I've tried to canvass Old Roedeanians about DWU. Messages asking for anecdotes have gone up on Old Roedeanian Facebook pages but with no result. I don't know why that is. Maybe because DWU left Roedean in the early 70s and most Facebookers won't have known her.
She died in 1990. She lives on in my memory. I am grateful to her for showing me how fascinating History is and I don't regret calling myself DWUSKID. But to make life easier, I'm now going to try and change my name on Twitter. Dorothy Butcher,rather belatedly, thank you for all you did for me.