Yes, I had a Gap Year in 1974, not that it was known as a Gap Year in 1974 of course for there was no such thing in 1974. In 1974 you finished school when you were 16 and the next morning you went to work in the big wide world for the next 50 years, thats how it was in 1974.
There was an alternative for those who were incredibly intelligent though, for the incredibly intelligent (less than 10% of all 16 year olds) could stay at school for another two years and at the end of that period take Advanced Level exams, but let us make no mistake here, A Levels were for the incredibly intelligent and were only available in a handful of very career specific subjects, basically if you wanted to be a Doctor or a Lawyer you stayed on and did A Levels, if not then you left school at 16 and got a bloody job you idle bugger.
So I stayed on to do A Levels.
Yes, I know, its a surprise even to me and it was one hell of a surprise to Juicy Adams the old retainer in charge of the Sixth Form A Level group at Leeds Modern School, so shocked was he when he found out two months after I’d returned to the school that he summoned me to his office and asked what the hell I thought I was doing in his sixth form.
Truth was that back in August, at a time when the 16 year old me should have been employed in some job somewhere, I had no inkling of what I wanted to do so had wandered into the school on the day when Juicy Adams was interviewing for the A Level group, yes he had to approve you as being intelligent enough to join the elite band, and when he looked at me he just said “No”, I asked him to actually look at the application forms that I’d filled in but he still said “No” and suggested that I go get a job instead of wasting his time (those were his exact words).
So in September when the new school year started and I still had not decided what I wanted to do I wandered back into school and saw that Trampus Shaw had been put in charge of one small group of A Level students, I approached him, he recognised me as one of his failed French O Level pupils and greeted me with a “Hello old chap and how are you”, lovely bloke Trampus Shaw was, scruffy bastard, looked like a tramp, hence his name, but a lovely man and easily distracted by asking him what he did in the war, more importantly he thought I was a decent sort who wouldn’t tell a fib to cajole his way into the school at all, why butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth…
“Are you joining the sixth form” he asked with a quizzical look that spoke volumes, those volumes being mainly of the “Surely there must be a mistake” sort of variety.
“Oh yes” I replied with a big smile, always smile when you’re lying through your teeth.
“Well thats strange” he said, perusing his register of students, “I can’t seem to find your name anywhere on my list old man”
“Oh there must have been some mistake” I confidently told him, “It was a late entry, Juicy, erm I mean Mr Adams knows all about it, he said to tell you to just add me on the bottom of the list”
“Oh well, I’ll certainly do that for you old chap, good to have you on board, never thought you’d make it, well done and all that”
Nice bloke was Trampus, gullible as hell, but ever such a nice man, and so well spoken too.
“What subjects will you be taking old chap ?” he asked.
“Oh, erm, Art and Geography” I replied not having thought this through at all.
“Is that all” he asked, a puzzled look upon his face for it was customary to take at least three A Levels and some O Levels too, if only to fill in the time, taking just two A Levels only represented about two days worth of the school week as I was soon to find out.
“Oh yes, just the two” I replied, Juicy, erm Mr Adams said we’d sort out some more work later”
“Ah jolly good old chap, well good to have you aboard and all that” and we shook hands and I was in.
My random choice of Geography did have fringe benefits though and those fringe benefits came with a fringe in the style of Purdy from The Avengers, the lovely Miss Cockayne, a newly qualified Geography teacher who was assigned to our A Level class to the delight of us 17 year old hormone enriched students who were surely only three or four years younger than her…
Let me tell you how lovely the lovely Miss Cockayne was – she convinced me that cross country running was a great idea – thats how lovely she was. A woman who could sell something like cross country running to a group of otherwise lethargic 17 year olds held immense power in her hands, indeed she held us all in the palm of her hand, metaphorically if not literally, more is the shame.
It was actually orienteering, a sort of cross between Cluedo and cross country running, it was running across open countryside whilst at the same time trying to read a map and compass and look for hidden clues, some of which may also be cryptic clues.
It was the sort of thing that the sturdy girl, outdoor loving, lovely Miss Cockayne would excel at and we all went along in the vain hope that she’d appear in tight shorts and a tight singlet and we could all run along behind, thus are teenagers dreams construed.
The reality is that the lovely Miss Cockayne did not participate at all in our fantasy orienteering, she merely organised it, it was us dribbling idiots who had to wear the shorts and singlets and line up in pairs at the foot of Otley Chevin every Tuesday afternoon with Miss Cockayne having arrived there before us and walked a course leaving behind eight small envelopes with the answers to her clues written inside – these envelopes would be pinned to trees or sellotaped to rocks, map co-ordinates taken and offered to us in clue form.
I paired up with Rick Thorpe and at regular intervals each pair was released to go and search for the clues – Otley Chevin is a huge escarpment to the North of Leeds, the whole long side of an ancient glaciated Wharfedale valley and as is typical with such Dales glaciated valleys the sides are high and steep and are now thickly wooded with pines – somewhere in the hundred or so acres of our patch were eight clues to find, read and report back on in one hours time.
We didn’t do very well the first week, other than utterly exhaust ourselves we returned muddy and flushed with just the two clues and we’d only found those because we’d caught up with another pair of boys and forced them to tell us where they were.
The following week we had a plan, we volunteered to go off first and having got the hang of this map reading thing started to find the hidden envelopes with ease – having read and noted the answers to the clues we then tore up the envelope and threw the evidence away – it was a master plan for even if we didn’t get to all of them then at least no-one else would find the clues after us.
Worked like a charm too, we all arrived back at the meeting point muddy and flushed, me and Rick Thorpe with seven of the eight correct answers to the clues, everyone else looking downcast and forlorn, we would surely be Miss Cockaynes star pupils this day…
Apart from the obvious.
We were the only pair who had found any of the envelopes at all, and we were the first pair to go onto the course, no-one else had found anything at all after us even though some had even drawn on their maps where they had run and they had run right past where the envelopes had been. Miss Cockayne surveyed the evidence with a suspicious eye, clearly there had been some subterfuge and being an expert on the art of orienteering she obviously knew what it was, her attention turned immediately to us two.
“What did you do with the envelopes after you’d read the answers” she asked, nothing escaped the lovely Miss Cockayne
“We pinned them back on the tree of course” we both lied through our teeth
“Are you sure”
“You didn’t thrown them away did you ?”
We turned to each other and stared feigning shock for fifteen seconds before turning back to the lovely Miss Cockayne
“Why no the lovely Miss Cockayne, why we never thought of such a thing, why that would be, well … cheating”
No-one believed us.
We were asked to find something else to occupy our time the following week.