Former Spalding Grammar School teacher and student collaborate on children’s book

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Thankfully, David Wheeler couldn’t think of a rhyme for ‘retina’ when writing nonsense verse for his grandchildren about his eye patch.

He was wearing the patch after a sudden and dramatic loss of eye-sight in his left eye caused by a detached retina.

Natalie Twigg and David Wheeler and their new book, My Pirate Grandad. Photo: SG220513-121TW

Natalie Twigg and David Wheeler and their new book, My Pirate Grandad. Photo: SG220513-121TW

“I think in younger people it can happen with a blow to the head, such as being hit by a cricket ball,” says David. He was at Lord’s Cricket Ground on the second day of the England v Sri Lanka test match in 2011 when he lost the sight in one eye in about 50 minutes.

He said: “If you are older, short-sighted and have large eyeballs and sneeze violently it can happen like that. I don’t remember being knocked on the head or sneezing.

“It was like a net curtain slowly being drawn across. Apparently, sometimes the retina peels off slowly, but mine was quick and dramatic.”

David was a short walk away from the London Eye Hospital, where he had surgery the following morning to glue the detached retina back on, something that was successful at the second attempt.

David, who lives in Spalding, explained the eye patch to his grandchildren by saying he had become a pirate and there followed pirate adventures, stories and a poem.

He said: “I have written lots of poems for my grandchildren because they love verse and rhyme and nonsense, so it was not intended for publication, just to amuse. They loved it, particularly because it mentions their names, Sophia and Oliver.”

In fact, David was already a published author, having written a student guide to a poetry anthology, Moon on the Tides.

David, a teacher at Spalding Grammar School for 26 years and head of English for 16 of those years, had taught the daughter of colleague David Twigg when she was in the sixth form.

Following a Masters degree in journalism, Natalie Twigg had written and illustrated a children’s book and also published a short work on Hemingway.

After returning to her family home in Spalding she and David agreed to collaborate on another book, Sunlight on Grass: a student guide to the AQA GCSE short story anthology.

During that process, David discovered that Natalie could draw and she admits she felt inspired to illustrate David’s nonsense verse when she read it. The result is My Pirate Grandad, written by David and beautifully illustrated by Natalie. Published by Red Axe Books, £1 from each copy sold goes to the NSPCC.