At the passing away of Jan Mark

Translation of the in memoriam that appeared in Ter Linde, the magazine of the Independent Agricultural and Horticultural School (VLTI) in Torhout, Belgium.

On 16 January 2006 highly-acclaimed British writer of teenage fiction Jan Mark passed away totally unexpectedly at her house in Oxford. She was 62.

Those of you who were working (as pupils or as teachers) at the Agricultural and Horticultural School in the school year 1998-1999 will vividly remember Jan Mark's visit to our school. She was accompanied by children's poet Robin Mellor. The classes of the fifth and sixth year of Biotechnology collaborated with other schools in the literary project Spring '99 - Mark and Mellor. Months before we had started reading poems by Robin Mellor and short stories by Jan Mark. Titles such as "Feet", "Nothing to be afraid of" and "The Choice is yours" probably still ring a bell.VLTI pupil at work

But the climax of the project was undoubtedly the visit by both authors in April 1999. During the preparation with the pupils we had decided not to opt for a traditional 'confrontation' with the authors, but to receive them as our guests and to show them what happened at our agricultural and horticultural school. This option proved to be a success. After a week of exacting lectures Jan and Robin were extremely glad to hear that this time they wouldn't have to do the talking, but that our pupils would guide them around, explain things, show the different aspects of our courses. The photographs in this article will take you back to that time. After an introduction in the language classroom (in which the structure of the school and the school farm were presented) we went to the rabbits (still at the old farm at that time), to the storage building and then to the garden and the (old) greenhouses in the Keiberg Street. One of the greenhouses had been emptied and arranged as a writing workshop. It was there that Jan lead a writing exercise class. We rounded off with a reception. VLTI pupils at work

What struck everyone, pupils and teachers alike, was Jan's genuine interest for science, technology and plants. During the visit to the greenhouse and the flower arrangement lesson we were unable to keep to our timing because Jan wanted to see everything and kept asking questions. Equally striking was the cordial way in which everyone got her attention. Jan's writing class Years later she would still call this the high point of her school visits. Each time we met later (during her two-yearly visits to KATHO-RENO) she kept referring to that visit. She remembered names of pupils and things that she had been told and shown. The Torhout Agricultural and Horticultural School had secured a place in her heart.

When she left us one evening in April 1999 she wrote:
'Thank you all for giving us
such a wonderful afternoon,
for working so hard,
for making us feel so welcome.
I wish I could stay longer.
I hope I can come here again.'

This will not be the case now. The British literary world, Jan's readers everywhere and the Torhout Agricultural and Horticultural School have to say goodbye, but they retain the best of memories of this extraordinary woman.

Christa Pacco
(former VLTI teacher)