Quaint Deeds by A. J. Mackinnon

Reviewed by Norrie Sanders

Quaint Deeds is a memoir of A.J. “Sandy” Mackinnon’s school teaching years in Australia and England, in the 1980s and 90s. From the subtitle and the cover, it is apparent that the memoir is more whimsical than macho, with topics and activities that all speak of a zest for life. A.J. is gently subversive and likes to lead his boarding-school pupils along paths less trodden. Think Dead Poets Society with a smattering of Decline and Fall.

The book is cast as a series of loosely themed chapters, with subjects as varied as cave explorations, a cantankerous French car and fire breathing students performing Shakespeare. These are gentle stories – adventurettes perhaps – with occasional risks and plenty of faux pas. A.J. comes across as a teacher always on the lookout to engage his students in new activities that enhance their education about life. Most of the action takes place at a co-ed school in Shropshire – near the Welsh border and not far from the Lakes District – so plenty of opportunities for a bit of wildness.

Like the author, the writing style is a core of Aussie with a rich overlay of British culture. It is intelligent writing, but never pretentious.   A.J. paints generous portraits of the many characters who appear, and those with whom he gently clashes are dismissed with courtesy.   He seems to have a genuine affection for his fellow teachers and students alike and it transpires that some career advice from his father helped frame this attitude. It is hard not to like his attitude to life and how he expresses it on the page.

However, even he admits that there may be a very large filter at work:

It hardly seems credible to me now, but I know that I am blessed with an incurably rosy-tinted memory and the weeks and months of drudgery have all dissolved away like so much muddy paint-dregs swilled down the plughole at the end of an art lesson, leaving only the bright impressionistic paintings behind  [p131].

This is a preamble to one of the most entertaining chapters, where his Australian sense of fairness sends him head to head with some conspicuously upper class pupils. His desire to overthrow generations of privilege and pomposity with a dose of egalitarianism meets with astonishment and mixed success.

Self-effacing and generous, A.J.Mackinnon comes across as a fine role model, especially for other teachers. Readers of this book will find plenty to amuse and perhaps will see a little more good in everyone.

A.J. Mackinnon was born in Australia in 1963 and travelled as a boy on P&O liners between Australia and England, developing a love of slow travel. He started his teaching career in 1984 and has worked in various schools around the world, sharing his passion for English Literature, mathematics, drama, art and philosophy with countless students over the years. He now lives in the Victorian High Country of Australia, where he continues to love his teaching, his garden and various other creative projects. He is the author of the international bestseller The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow and The Well at the World’s End.

 Quaint Deeds: Unlikely Adventures in Teaching and Treasure-hunting

(October 2023)

by A.J. Mackinnon

Black Inc

ISBN: 978 176064 369 0

$34.99 [RRP Paperback]; 336pp

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