Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Ordinary Life 5
Bottom row, second from left.
Careers advice then led me on to study Pure and Applied Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry at A’level. While I don’t regret the latter I still wish I had studied something apart from Chemistry. I had a flair for languages then and I think I would have done well in A’level French. At the time this was seen as ‘too far outside the box’ when students at A’level tended to be pigeonholed. I guess they still are. The divide between arts and sciences in particular is still a prejudice that lets down school timetables in my opinion.
Once again I was a relatively undistinguished student, relying on my natural ability with subjects and things mathematical to coast me through the exams, eschewing the extra that hard work might have given me. Not that I ever saw virtue in hard work for its own sake.
I came top of my school in Physics, did as well in Mathematics but was a poorer Chemist. It just seemed like a tedious series of observations that could only be learned parrot fashion to me at the time. With the exception of organic chemistry, which by its nature was more amenable to analysis from first principle and calculable result. I suspect this aspect was what gave me any dignity that a grade D deserved. I can see more merit in it now.
As well as A’levels the school was enlightened enough to offer a series of short minority courses. I learned a little of the history of modern art, how to program a computer, conducting orchestral scores, taking and developing black and white photographs, lateral thinking, and I came again to enjoy my own artistic efforts. I can see roots of many of my adult interests in these courses and the early experience of computers shaped a lot of my life.
I left my last exam on a skateboard in the June of 1977.
I didn’t leave the school entirely behind on that day though.
I had split up with a girlfriend of about two years before Christmas.
On the eve of my eighteenth birthday I was enchanted by someone new. Francine, a young French student a year or two older than I, was doing her years study abroad. She was partly employed by my school to practise language skills with O’level and A’level students. She showed me sweet romantic nights in her Bristol flat. Introduced me to music and love. She took me to film clubs and fed me French treats. We smoked Camels under the open window, along the back of Ravenswood Road, and listened to the sound of summer in the city.
After just a month her father came to drive her home to Paris. At the time this was an insurmountable distance. By the time she came back in to my life I had foolishly found someone new. We had made no promises beyond birthday wishes but I still feel I let her down.
Years later, when I became a teacher myself, it occurred to me that we might have made a scandal in the papers.