Like nearly everybody in the school, I came from a state junior school. We sat some kind of pre-admission test which was used to allocate us to streams (2A, 2B or (l’horreur!) 2C) but there was no entrance exam requirement.
So came that 1961 intake: 50 or so nine year olds from schools across the country, from crowded and lively primary classes of 35 or so, to the echoing quiet of (in my case) 2A, to walk in silent lines from Maths to Scripture or Geography, Latin or French and so on. Each master had his own classroom, where the lines of iron-framed wooden desks – chacun son inkwell – bore the chiselling of generations of Masonic boys and a wall clock marked the passage of time with a deathly slow ticking crawl. Tedium laudamus.
I remember my first Maths lesson well because the master, Bertie Breckons, had us stand and attempt to recite by heart multiplication tables . A test we failed, to his manifest contempt. The exception being Courtenay Hall (I hope he will forgive the mention) who was able to rattle off any table on demand and who, to Bertie’s delight, had come from “Dunstan Hall Preparatory” or some such preppy sounding place. This gave Breckons the opportunity to remark that “At least somebody in the class had been properly educated”.
Unfortunately Courtenay’s prowess with multiplication tables proved illusory and after struggling in 2A for a term Courtenay went down to the B stream although he discovered a talent for the violin, which eventually took him to the Royal Academy. Draw your own conclusions on the limitations of rote learning.
Most lessons were bloody dull, the occasional one interesting and more than the occasional one downright terrifying. This was usually because either the master was a sadist, like the French Master, King, or you didn’t get on with the subject; often both of these applied.
For this reason everybody had lessons they dreaded. For the unathletic PE was a nightmare; lessons generally consisted of being lined up and made to vault over seriously high or long boxes in turn. Derision or contempt greeted failure or refusal. My horror was World Maps in Geography where you had to identify the capital cities from the dots on a map: a task that seemed beyond my particular form of intelligence. A low score meant a detention or even a beating.
Maybe interesting lessons were in fact plentiful and I have just forgotten them but I think not. It was not, you will have gathered, a gentle pedagogy and the stick was preferred to the carrot.
It would be churlish, however, not to acknowledge that I did get a good academic education. Like I said at the outset, I really, really would not want to repeat the whole experience but I doubt I would have fared better at home. So I am grateful for the education, although I got off to a slow start: after coming 13/13 at the end of the first term my mother promised me a guitar if I came in the first six in the Spring Term. I obliged by coming first and was rewarded by my first and only guitar and enough change to buy the “Bert Weedon Learn Good Guitar in Five Minutes” tutorial. A somewhat extravagant claim as I failed to learn a single chord in six years. I did though finally go on to get a degree in Classics from Exeter and after adventures in Iran and other places fell in to a career in teaching.
Rather have been a Guitar God though.
Ain’t Life a Bitch.