We were at another of life’s crossroads, Class 5S of Leeds Modern School in the summer of 1973. By the 30th June we would all of us have taken the last of our GCE O level exams, the exams which would determine our future careers, or in my case perhaps not, and by now we would be left the school that shackled us to the desk of education these past five years, or in my case perhaps not.
There was no “last day”, no opportunity to say a fond farewell to chums and compatriots who had served in the trenches of education for five long years, for all of us were taking a different range of subjects and our exam calendars were spread out over a period of two to three weeks, we simply came into school to do our exams and then went home again not knowing if we’d see anyone ever again until something like Facebook should be invented in an online world that was yet to be even imagined let alone devised.
We’d been sent home shortly after the Easter break with the message ringing in our ears “Go home and revise for the exams, we can do no more for you now” and so had spent several weeks hard at work at home revising five years worth of subject matter in eight or so different subjects, except for me for I had perfected the art of “Just Do Enough” a new science that I had developed all by myself during five years of constant exams at Leeds Modern School and which worked along the lines that every educational subject that relies on one final exam can be boiled down to a few pertinent facts – all you have to do is to read through years worth of notes and exercise books and identify those pertinent facts, write them down in brief one line notes to fill less than one A4 page – and then memorise that page of facts in the hour before the exam, usually on the bus on the way to the exam.
It works, let me tell you here and now, it works.
OK, so maybe if you’re the sort who wants straight AA grades then maybe it won’t always work for you, but for pupils like me who were satisfied with “Just Do Enough” and a row of “C” results on your GCE certificate of education, then it works.
Apart from the Maths, it should work perfectly for Maths because Maths is the one subject where pertinent points boil down to short little formulae which should be easy to remember on the bus on the way to the exam, but then again all of this is sort of dependent on the fact that you can be half arsed with the subject, which in the case of Maths, I wasn’t – I had to re-take my Maths O level 12 months later in order to increase the “E” mark to a more respectable “Just Do Enough”, C.
The charts of June 73 were noteworthy, packed full of some quite ace music all of which provided a backdrop to those long weeks of revision at home George Harrision’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)” was one of those songs, the line “Give me hope, help me cope with this heavy load” would ring true to many a 16 year old studying hard at home for this one-off exam to determine their future life – not that I viewed it like that at all for the maxim “Just Do Enough” teaches you that the Lord God Wilkins McAwber of Charles Dickens “David Copperfield” fame ensures that “Something will always turn up Copperfield”.
Lou Reeds “Walk on the wild side” had just spent eight weeks in the charts on this week in ’73 and so was another one of the “Revise-along-a…” tunes that summer, it was a warm one I recall, I specifically recall this because at the same time that I started my “Go home and revise boys” period the builders turned up at our house to construct the square box flat roofed extension to the bungalow that was to become my bedroom, until that point I’d been sharing a tiny bedroom with our Ned, a room so small that once you’d got two single beds and a wardrobe in it, it was full with hardly any room to walk around – my father being my father had arranged for his life-long pal and cohort Bob Beck to organise the construction of my 10ft x 10ft extension and an architect and two brickies were employed cash-in-hand, no questions asked, no written paperwork or invoice at the end, it was how my dad and his cohorts prefered to work.
Throughout that sunny start to the summer the brickies slaved away, sometimes all day, sometimes just for an hour or so while they were working on other jobs and it was my job to keep them supplied with pots of tea and ask them questions about the building trade and what opportunities it might offer to a 16 year old like me who was supposed to be leaving school in a few days time but then again hadn’t quite made his mind up yet, or even thought about the subject.
“What do you like to do?” asked one of the brickies one day
“I like to draw and I’ve just done an O level in technical drawing” I replied
“Fucking O levels” said the brickies simultaneously as I’d forgotten that the labouring classes didn’t do O levels when they were at school, just like our Ned.
“Yes” I replied
“Well go and be an architect then” one of them replied, “And whatever you do” said the other, “don’t be a fucking brickie like us”
So that sorted that out then.
And then finally it was August 1973 and I still hadn’t decided what I was going to do about leaving school and finding a job or, well, anything else, and it was time for the family holiday, this year to Dinard in Brittany, France, a three week holiday under canvas on a campsite 20 yards from the beach and another stretch of unbroken good weather, sunburn, and an opportunity to partake of the hundreds of cans of Long Life Lager that Ralph had managed to snaffle from work.
The Bowie song “Life on Mars” was an anthem that holiday, I still have no idea what on earth its all about especially the “Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow” line, but maybe its like a Tom Waits song where the lines don’t have to be contiguous but are just thrown in a hat and drawn at random then matched with another line that rhymes and leave the pondering and philosophising to those with more time on their hands.