I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Was I - perhaps - educable?

I did badly at school because (1) I couldn’t see why I needed a formal education, and (2) no master suggested otherwise.

Having left school I led a charmed life. I submitted sentences to sub-editors who humiliated me into writing better sentences – a simple process. Then, against all my instincts, and using nothing more than the threat of draconian punishment, the RAF forced me to absorb the rudiments of electronics, an applied form of physics. Suddenly I had educational depth! Anyone more biddable might have concluded I’d been chosen and guided by a larger force. Perhaps even A Larger Force, with capital letters.

Yesterday I saw the movie of Alan Bennett's play The History Boys wherein Sheffield sixth-formers are prepared for the Oxford-Cambridge entrance exam.

These are very clever lads, already diverging from nuts-and-bolts school learning. In an easy-flowing yet competitive meritocracy they are, I suppose, employing their intelligence to develop their intellect. For the first time ever I saw being taught as an enjoyable process. I fancied my chances among them.

A delusion, of course. I was imagining myself as I am now - the product of decades of higgledy-piggledy experience - instead of what I then was: a surly seventeen-year-old length of gristle. Gristle too that had unbelievably triumphed over the barriers preceding A-levels. Even so... I was drawn to that noisy, jeering, well-read, broadly talented group of show-offs. Convinced I’d have fitted in.

Well it didn't happen and I’m not complaining. I'm fairly satisfied with the way things worked out, even if I do lack trained analytical ability and a mental database arrived at logically rather than willy-nilly.
But there's this worm that's nibbling away... they call it envy


  1. An academic career, resulting from a different attitude towards your teachers, might have seen you finally pontificating on a university campus here or across the pond.
    I wonder whether you consider the alternative which you outline a lucky escape. I have a feeling that you might.

  2. Your life and career prove that many students become 'educated' in spite of the system.Schooling is not education.

  3. I saw the film. There was some great detail. The way people went in and out of the headmaster’s study. The body language of people passing by in the background, especially Griffiths. The headmaster was was acted brilliantly, if a bit over the top.The whole thing was a great treat. I wonder how it would have gone down with American audiences?

    The school you and I went to was similar in that it focused on getting a select few into Oxbridge, and anybody without that potential was ignored - there was no middle road. There was never any suggestion to me of further education, but at the same time I know that at that age I just didn’t have the maturity, to understand the implications and advantages, and the system had never made any attempt to instill this. I contrast that immaturity with the contestants I see on University Challenge, albeit a year or two older, whose range of knowledge and speed of thinking is phenomenal, and way beyond anything I might have achieved, so perhaps it’s as well I didn’t go down that path. Like you I have had twinges of envy over the years.

    I have tried to imagine you in that situation and it just seems to be pure fantasy without any credibility. I don’t see why you think a formally achieved “mental database” is desirable, but “trained analytical ability” sounds more appealing.

  4. Joe: As I said, I was broadly satisfied with the way things worked out. My situation allowed me - encouraged me - to live by my wits and when I look back I think I can descry (Gosh. Haven't used that verb for several decades) a set of moderately individualistic tracks. However, I don't see it as a lucky escape since I doubt there was ever any chance of sliding into the option you outline.

    Anon: Your anonymity (which up to now I have hardly considered) gives you an advantage. From things you have said before I assume we share some locations if not some experiences. But to find you summarising "my life" seems extraordinary. I am therefore led to this conclusion: that somewhere along the line you underwent a sex-change op. It's the only way I can make the facts fit in.

    Sir Hugh: Worse than fantasy it is, as I have said, delusional. You seem surprised.

    A formally achieved "mental database" is one that followed a plan. As a result the bits are interrelated and can be combined to make larger statements. My d/b, such as it is, was compiled in rather the way one inflates a balloon and then lets it go. Making a similar noise, too.

  5. You have described much of your life in all your blogs. Bradford, London, USA, your love of music, marriage,you have touched on family relationship.I have read them all hence the statement'your life'.I am a devout hetersexual.

  6. I mean heterosexual

  7. Anon: You have my permission to go on being anonymous. However, I should add that the result of a sex-change op is a change in gender not sexual orientation.

    One other thing: the use of the adjective "devout" in that sentence is ill-advised. It leads the reader to wonder why you're making a meal of it. As Hamlet says: "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."

    While the French offer the even more elegant:

    Qui s'excuse, s'accuse
    He who excuses himself, ends up drawing attention to himself.

    And since I'm in a quoting mood let me also mention Hilaire Belloc's cautionary tale about Jim who ran off at the zoo and was eaten by a lion:

    And always keep a-hold of Nurse
    For fear of finding something worse.

    The suggestion being that your heterosexuality is devout because you're terrified by the alternative.

    Proving that in the literary game adjectives and adverbs tend to be our enemies rather than our friends.

  8. I am quitting whilst you're ahead.