Its May 1973 and at the half term break Class 5S are told to sling their collective hook and never again darken the doors of the Leeds Modern Grammar School, that is, until they are scheduled to come to the Great Hall for any of their several O Level exams and even on those days they are not to trespass in the main school, you go to the Hall and you do your exam and then you fekk off back home, we’ve done with you now, we can teach you no more, these O Level exams are your responsibility now and they will affect THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.
Of course it was all an establishment lie for in actuality the big brave world outside the walls of Leeds Modern Grammar School was craving for school leavers in 1973, it was a job seekers market and employers couldn’t get enough 16 year olds to come and work for them in five year indentured apprenticeships leading to trade qualifications that were recognised all over the world – whether you wanted to be a bricklayer or a brain surgeon there was a door open for you just as soon as you stepped through those Leeds Modern gates for the very last time.
No, I’m not being sarcastic, it really was like that, where did it all go wrong ?
We 16 year olds were released from the schools requirement to attend every day in mid-May and told to go home and revise for THE MOST IMPORTANT EXAMS OF YOUR LIFE, given a timetable of exams which commenced in June we were no longer tolerated on the school premises, we should by now have accumulated enough notes over these past five years on each of at least eight subjects in order to sit at home and study intently until the day of the exam, or so the theory went.
We had the builders in at home, my father having decided that me and our Ned no longer had sufficient room to share a ten foot by ten foot bedroom and in that he was correct, so I was getting a new bedroom which was being crafted expertly by two cash-in-hand young builders, a brickie and his mate that Bob Beck had recommended – as with all things associated with my father it was barely conventional or even legal but I think he had planning permission and in any case when we sold the bungalow 25 years later we could easily waft our hands in the air and say “Oh I don’t know what he did with the paperwork…”
I sat at the dining room table on the first Monday after we’d been released to revision duties staring down at a pile of tattered old exercise books which should have contained notes and texts that were going to guide me through THE MOST IMPORTANT EXAMS OF MY LIFE, but when I opened most of them all I found was cartoons and doodles on most of the pages and angry teachers comments written in red biro demanding that I “SEE ME!!!” at the end of the lesson for where was the homework that I should have by now completed ?
Doodling in the margins was my favourite pastime as was also doodling on the front and back cover and I passed the first hour of my revisions admiring my artwork of the past five years, well that was the art O level revision done then, suppose we’d better take a break for coffee, make the two builders some tea like I’d been told to by my dad that morning (it was part of their wages apparently) and relax for a bit.
I took two mugs of tea around to the back of the house to the two brickies who were only a couple of years older than myself and we sat on a pile of bricks and spoke of many things, of music mainly, and birds, (no we weren’t ornithologists) and of life in general and how I’d go about getting myself a job like the ones that they had, it seemed like quite a cool job to have being paid in cash to build things out of bricks, they drove around in an old battered Bond Bug (look it up) and were a couple of cool guys about town, “The Building Trade” box inside my head was ticked as a possibility.
May and June of 1973 were seasonably warm and sunny and most days of my home revision were spent in similar manner, sitting on a pile of bricks in the garden watching two brickies build my new bedroom and learning from them how things got built and so it was that during my period of home revision in preparation for THE MOST IMPORTANT EXAMS OF MY LIFE, I learned nothing of Maths, English and Science but lots and lots about damp proof courses, air bricks, wall ties and the important and correct use of a plumb line when aligning your courses.
Predictably none of this helped one iota when eventually I sat in the Great Hall with a Maths O level paper on the desk in front of me and while I gazed at the far wall and wondered if the bricklayers of the 1930s had used a 4:1 or 3:1 mix in their mortar all of my compatriots were busy scribbling away answering questions like billy-o. Predictably I failed my Maths O level, that is I got a Grade E which is next to useless and basically states to the world that “This boy needs to buck his ideas up a bit for he is going nowhere, fast” but that summer of revision is still filed away in a favourite place in the Museum of Recollections, George Harrisons “Give Me Love” was played constantly on Radio 1, christ knows how much his record company must have bunged the D-Jays but it was on every ten minutes through the day and its refrain still takes me back to the 16 year old me sat at our dining room table chewing on the end of a pencil, exercise books open but unread, gazing into space and daydreaming, I daydreamed for about two months and came out the other end a much more rounded person with the realisation that THE MOST IMPORTANT EXAMS IN YOUR LIFE actually counted for the grand sum of fuck-all for when it came time to be interviewed for a proper job I simply lied about the quantity and grades of O levels that I had apparently gathered in that summer of 73, and they never asked for proof, if only I’d known earlier I could have done a lot more doodling.
Love and peace man and all that jazz.