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Home | 2016 | October

Those formative years

Posted by Thersites on UTC 2016-10-06 16:02.

I looked in an old storage-box in the cellar yesterday. Good grief! School reports! Boys' school!

'Do share', I hear you say.

Well, since you ask…

First Year, 11-12 years-old, 1958-9

Term 1, autumn

school report

Bottom of the class. Got off lightly here. In our first lesson F.D. drew a birdcage on the board. The door of the cage was open. He then wrote 'polygon' underneath the cage. Things went downhill from there and that is the only thing I can remember of his teaching.

Term 2, spring

school report

The French teacher's comment is fair ('slipshod' = getting the gender of French nouns wrong), but uncomprehending: when learning a language, if you didn't understand the material in the first term, the second cannot be an improvement. I remained puzzled for a long time that there was another language besides English. For what purpose? I had to wait 20 years until George Steiner dealt with the 'Babel problem'.

school report

22nd in a class of 31. The Maths teacher's calligraphic hand in the first term has already started to crumble. He seeks distraction from the joys of report writing in constructing memorable, alliterative phrases. That memorable judgement 'Weak but willing' has followed me all the days of my life since then – at work, at play and in the bedroom.

school report

Term 3, summer

school report

I was unrepentant at coming 24th in a class of 31. The 'disappointment' was entirely his and religious ones such as he should learn how to cope with this frequently recurring state.

school report

I had now lost the thread completely in French, so 'he makes no attempt' is just. It would take a number of years and Gérard's hot sister in Soissons (when gender in French finally became an important issue) before progress would be made with that damn language.

school report

21st in a class of 31, which seems to me to be going in the right direction. You cannot please teachers, though. The Maths teacher's calligraphic hand has almost disappeared, the initials confused (drink?). He left the school shortly afterwards, poor chap.

school report

Middle of the class but 'weak': about right.

Second Year, 12-13 years-old, 1959-60

Term 1, autumn

school report school report school report

All true – too, too true.

Term 2, spring

school report school report

'his ability is quite high' – a common misunderstanding. I should have spent more time in the management of expectations.

school report school report

Top of the class in Science and Art. It's just never enough! My homework may have been 'disgusting', but at least – unusually for me in any subject – it was there.

Term 3, summer

school report school report

Consistency in French and Maths, despite the hormonal turmoil.

Third Year, 13-14 years-old, 1960-61

The censorious cacophony grows. I'm surprised it didn't come to being left alone in the school library with a bottle of whisky and a pistol.

Term 1, autumn

school report school report school report school report

You don't think that all this disappointment that I was spreading around could have had anything to do with the hot blonde from the Girls' school with whom I shared the back seat on the top deck of a bus for half an hour twice a day?

Term 2, spring

school report school report

Yes, it was the hot blonde. She would keep my mind off homework for several years. Advice for my disappointed French teacher: Cherchez la femme!

school report

L'homme propose, Le Dieu dispose, Maître! He beat me several times that year, but stopped when I clearly began to enjoy it. Tease!

Term 3, summer

school report

'One of the most curious cases in my experience' scribbles the English master and the French master agrees, as I plunge to the bottom of the class in almost everything. Wonder what the blonde thought? Probably 'weak but willing'.

school report school report

Fourth Year, 14-15 years-old, 1961-62

Term 1, autumn, after a summer of lethargy, has anything changed?

school report school report

'Continues to deserve his position' – considering that I am bottom of the class in this dismal subject, a nice put-down. Such skill with language is a surprise in a Geography teacher. I cannot get enthused about the seasonal variations of rainfall in Patagonia: in Yorkshire – God's own county – it rains all the time.

school report school report

'Not satisfactory', 'not at all satisfactory', 'idleness', 'does not choose to apply himself'. They little know to what degenerate things the exhausted wreck of the boy that sat before them in their class was applying himself. Who has time for homework?

Term 2, spring

school report school report

'Weak', 'more effort required' – how were they to know that I was abusing much more than my abilities. 'Very listless' – a feeble husk, in fact.

school report

Term 3, summer

school report school report

More disappointment, more weakness, even less effort.


Time to stop. Our readers cannot be maltreated in this way any longer. Though written in a spidery, degenerate hand, all my exams would be passed. The ridiculously named 'higher education' would gobble me up and, after much more pointless scribbling, would spit me out.

Much has been left out of this education of the Christian prince that filled seven years of my young life. Many things passed before me, almost none of which I mastered. The ability to cut dovetail joints (why?); to construct bookends (only one completed); to know which way to run in a rugby game a) without ball, b) with ball and whether to throw said ball at someone else (member of own side for preference) or just vaguely up in the air or even to kick it – but where? that vexed question; to play stylish cricket strokes – much manly posing – which rarely made contact with that unforgivingly hard ball; to learn half a dozen ways of saying grace in Latin, even when it was bony fish-pie for lunch, for which no one could be expected to be grateful; to sing hymns con brio at Assembly without necessarily knowing the words; and so on and so on.

I have no idea what happened to any of those men who had been so important to me for seven years. One I met as a teaching colleague about half a dozen years later. He failed to disguise his surprise that 30 children were about to be consigned to my care. He didn't realise nor did I tell him that I was probably more surprised at this prospect than he was. We eventually got over the discomfiture of using first names and then went our own ways shortly afterwards.

Let us close this topic just as I have now closed the box wherefrom it arose. Time to move on.