There came a time, September 1973 to be precise, when Leeds Modern School was happy to wash it hands of me, our year had completed our O levels in the June and not returned, we were 16 years of age and had been fully and completely educated in accordance with the law of the land, we were now released into the world of employment as trainees, apprentices, tea makers and broom sweepers and of the 120 boys in our year around 90 of them did just that for sixth form and further education was a thing only for those who wanted to be doctors and lawyers or professors of hard sums like my friend Vaz, now Professor of Hard Sums in a renowned world context.
There was not a cat in hells chance that I would ever be considered for the sixth form, the sixth form was for those who had ambition, for those with a life plan, for those who knew that they needed “xxx” and “yyy” A levels to progress down their chosen career path, in short, the sixth form was for brainy kids not the “just do enough” kids like me – I was expected to go and find a job.
And yet I didn’t want to leave, I had found myself among a group of very affable chaps who were all staying on to do A levels and frankly I was an idle bugger who was not yet ready for signing up to 50 years worth of working life, I decided to try my hand at the interview procedure to be accepted into the sixth form.
On the appointed day and shortly after the O level results were known everyone with a wish to enter the sixth form had to attend the school for an interview with Juicy Adams, deputy head and head of sixth form. He wasn’t called Juicy for nothing for every vocal sound that required forming by the tongue was assisted by liberal application of sprayed saliva, when you were interviewed by Juicy Adams you usually took an umbrella, or swimming trunks.
“What can I do for you ?” he asked me as I sat opposite him in the library
“I’d like to study for A levels please” I replied, smiling
“And who are you ?” he asked, as I’ve said, I’d stayed fairly anonymous during my school career
I told him and he searched down his list of pupils and their O level results, down and down the list he went glancing up at me over the top of his spectacles every time he had to turn a page, the names were listed in order of “Who had done best in the O levels”, the more pages he had to turn the less of a chance you had of being accepted for further education.
“Ah yes” he said finally, perusing my O level results, then whipping off his spectacles he fixed me with a withering stare, “and why precisely do you think you’d be suitable for an A level course young man ?”
I really wanted to reply “because all my mates are” but instead gave him the well practiced bullshit about how keen I was to study at a higher level, how prepared I was for the intensity of the A level and how my future career depended on the A levels.
He put back his spectacles and glanced again at my pathetic O level results
“And what exactly would you like to study at A level” he asked scornfully
“Art and Geography” I replied
I’d put a lot of thought into my answer, the thought had consisted of asking myself “what O level subjects did I get my best marks in”, Art and Geography won.
Juicy Adams snorted down his substantial nose
“And precisely which career path will art and geography lead you down ?”
It was a good question, and an unexpected one too, I hadn’t expected the Spanish Inquisition
“I’d like to be a landscape artist” I replied.
“Please leave the library” was his only response.
But I still filled in the request to join the sixth form and while most of the other students were taking three A levels and at least a couple more O levels just to prove how brainy they were, I applied just for the Art and Geography courses, just do enough, there’s that mantra again.
A few weeks later I got a letter of acceptance, they must have been struggling for numbers that year.