I didn’t make it as far as GCSE Woodwork. In fact I barely graduated from unfinished pipe rack to wonky coffee table via a book rack that refused to hold books and, for some reason best known to Mr Kerr (the woodwork teacher) a single asymmetrical skittle, before I was summarily banished from the workshop forever. I learned the difference between dovetail joints and mortise and tenons, and most particularly that I was capable of neither. I learned that PVA glue is stronger than the wood it joins, but that it doesn’t stop it falling apart the second the clamps are taken off. I learned that any fool can saw a straight line – except this one. I took woodwork lessons for the mandatory three years and I think we were all agreed that we were lucky to get through it.
Of course, my ineptitude with all things ligneous, was not the only shortcoming to be highlighted during my secondary school years. I also discovered that my propensity for getting confused by all things scientific was almost boundless. Physics and Chemistry challenged areas of my brain that were theretofore exclusively reserved for being useless at Maths. By and large, Chemistry tutors were very keen on keeping me away from chemicals and Physics tutors were very much more comfortable if they managed to stop me plugging anything in. I enjoyed Biology, but as I wasn’t prepared to cut things up, I was banished to a side room where I studied ‘Human Biology’ alone, which at least meant that nobody had to take the risk of letting me loose with a scalpel.
My boredom threshold scrapes along the floor at the best of times, and three years spent ‘studying’ Latin has left me with nothing more than amo, amas, amat and the skill of using a ‘Power Ball’ to replicate the sound of someone knocking on the classroom door. The only thing that has really stayed with me from those interminable hours of incomprehensible babble was written inside the sleeve of my textbook by whichever unfortunate soul inherited it ahead of me. It was written, I recall, very neatly, by a hand much more skilled in the art of fountain pen usage than my own:
‘Latin is a language as dead as dead can be.
First it killed the Romans and now it’s killing me.’
I’m uncertain of the veracity of the statement, but I certainly applaud the spirit. I got very used to being sent from the class during those lessons – on occasions as I innocently wandered into the room – with the words ‘I can’t be bothered with you today, McQueen. Stand outside.’ I really didn’t mind. Staring at the wall for three quarters of an hour was very much preferable to forty five minutes of Latin conjugation.
In truth, my interest in all lessons depended almost entirely upon the teacher’s ability to engage me in some way. My geographical knowledge reached its apogee with the difference between glacial and river valleys. Topographically, everything – if you will excuse me – was downhill from there.
I loved ‘Creative Writing’ and also reading – as long as I was fully engaged by whatever I was given to read. I was even ok with ‘challenging’ as long as it was not also boring. I am completely incapable of finishing anything that has not comprehensively grabbed my attention. Once that has wandered, I am lost, and whatever it is that it has wandered away from, will never be visited again.
My memory tells me that I somehow scraped together six ‘O’ levels, but for the life of me, I can only name five of them and I am thus uncertain whether I have overestimated my teenage academic achievements by some percentage or another, or whether my memory has completely given up the ghost, along, as it goes, with the wonky coffee table which has just come down from the attic in three pieces, all of them bound for the garden incinerator.
Once again I watch my education going up in flames…