This week we venture once more into your authors Museum of Recollections and pick an occasion marked by its own filing cabinet drawer, this time its May 1973 and the classification of the filing cabinet is “Leeds Modern School/Cause and Consequences” and as we pick through the record cards in there we find May 1973.
For many of our class of thirty it was their final month partaking of their state education from that fine edifice on the Leeds outer ring road for by then we were all (well most of us) 16 years of age and under the law of the land it was time to be tested, it was O Level time.
For many it may have been the last few days of their state education but for the few it was a bridge to their further education, for those handful of boys who had a more than average collection of intelligence cells in their brains and whose parents had hopes and aspirations for them to take up “a profession” then the O Levels were but the first step, they were under pressure to get good grades in their O Levels to qualify for the sixth form and two years of study for their A Levels and then perhaps a university at the end of it – for the vast majority of the class of 73 though it was O Levels and then get a job.
For me it was “Oh, is this where we do our O Levels then ?” for once again my lackadaisical approach to life, the “take it as it comes each day” attitude that I have carried around even to this day, had come to the slow realisation that this was the end of the road, I was not intelligent enough to go on to A Levels that much was for sure but neither was I particularly enamored with the thought of having to find a job in a few weeks time, I was at lifes crossroad and I didn’t have a map and so I did what I always have done at times like this, then and now, I sat down on my suitcase and waited at the crossroad for something to turn up, for as Wilkins McAwber said in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield – “Something will ALWAYS turn up”.
For those about to take their end-of-school-days O Level exams the summer term ended early that year and in May we were all sent home, our education was complete and they could teach us no more, we were sent home with all of our text books and a timetable of upcoming exams and we were told to study at home and report back to school only for each exam.
There was an early start to summer that year for May was sunny and warm and for a 16 year old lad like me with a mind not fully focused on anything in particular the temptation was too great and I found myself and my mind a-wandering somewhat, walks through the woods, long sessions just sitting in an armchair listening to music while the rest of the family were at work, lounging around in the garden while two brickies built the extension on the back of our dads bungalow that was to become my bedroom, they’d ask why I was sitting in a deckchair in the garden instead of being at school and I’d tell them that I was studying for my O Levels and they’d reply that I should study hard or else face a lifetime of placing bricks on top of each other like they did, but to no avail, my brain was not in study mode, it was in idle mode and I spent week after week just aimlessly waiting …
Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” was the song of the moment, played every five minutes on Radio One and it lulled me into that false sense of “Sit back and relax, something will turn up”, waiting for inspiration that would never come.
And then one morning I looked at the calendar and in shock realised that my first O Level exam was on the ‘morrow and here was I with not a text book page turned and a brain full of fog, there was only one thing for it, Plan B, the plan that had seen me through every exam so far in my scholastic life – Cheat.
Plan B was very simple, you take a subject, any subject, and you quickly review the pages of text picking out only single pertinent points, in Maths for instance you would jot down the Pythagoras theory for that is ALWAYS in the exams, as is the formula to find the area of a circle, etc, etc – and you write down those bare facts on a single sheet of A4 paper and spend the next few hours committing just those facts to memory, including the bus ride to school before the exam right up until the moment when you are called into the exam hall and you have to throw away such aide-memoires – by this time you are silently chanting those bare facts to yourself and as soon as you are instructed to turn over the exam pages and commence, you write down every one onto the margins, spew out those bare facts, empty that small portion of your short term memory that has stored them for the past few hours – then relax, you now have the tools to do the paper and some kindly examiners actually give you extra points for showing “your workings out in the margin”, so double bonus.
It works as long as they ask questions on your bare facts of course, when they don’t then you’re royally fooked, but such is life and when you are a bear of very little brain then you don’t have these choices to make, I survived my O Levels, I passed five of them the first time around and then another two the second time around, not good grades it has to be said, but I passed them and in doing so was the first in my family to ever attain such heady heights of education as my older cousin had absconded the education system the year before to wander the world at his leisure as he still does to this day inbetween driving trains backwards and forwards across the Pennines.
And so dear reader we visit the UK Charts of May and June 1973 and the aforementioned Lou Reed takes prominence followed by 10cc and then the single that I thought was just ace, The Jeff Beck Group with Mr Stewart on vocals singing “I’m Drinking Again”, this is where my head was at, far, far away from scholastic issues and future employment and it was in this daze of confusion that I finally managed later in the year to stumble into the sixth form with no more reason to be there then I just didn’t know where else to be, but more of that later…