1965, the year that changed my life
The death of Mr. Gooding
Perhaps August 1965
1. During the summer holiday, perhaps in August, I had gone into school to pick up an envelope containing the results of my GCE O-level examinations:
The results came as a great relief, but really there was little to surprise me.
I was very keen on Biology so expected to pass that, but even so was pleased to have got the top grade.
I knew equally well that I would fail History; I had got something like 16% in the “mock” exam — much to the exasperation of the ageing, sinewy Mrs. Salmon, my History teacher — and so had made no effort since then to improve my performance — again, to her exasperation. In the exam I had written plenty and filled many more pages than I had expected to — in fact, I had quite enjoyed writing anything that came into my head. I seem to remember writing at length about “The South Sea Bubble”, a name which had amused me ever since Mrs. Salmon first uttered it. But the examiners were not impressed.
I didn’t care; I knew I was going to fail History. And no-one could object to my passing in eight subjects — no-one, that is, except my Grandma Cooper, who, when I showed her the results paper, expressed in slightly sing-song tones that maybe I could have done better. It was now my turn to feel exasperated. But I think my Mum counselled me not to be concerned about what she thought; I had done very well.
In Geography, I had the impression, just as in History, that I had written anything that came into my head, but this time it must have been stuff of value to the examiner. I felt I was lucky, though, to get a “3”.
The “5” in French, I thought, was fair; my performance in the written exam was quite mediocre, and I had been very nervous and almost completely tongue-tied in the oral exam.
The “5” in English Literature was lucky, considering, for example, that I was still reading one of the set books, Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, on the day of the exam, and didn’t finish it.
Physics was my favourite subject after Biology.
Chemistry I quite enjoyed but found hard to remember.
English Language, with its parts of speech and analysis of sentences, was not a subject of particular interest to me, but neither did I find it too demanding.
Mathematics (abbreviated in the UK to “Maths”) I didn’t enjoy but could mostly tolerate — mostly, apart from one time when I was at home trying and failing to do my Maths homework, and in a fit of despair at ever being able to do a particular question, or set of questions, I scribbled
To check our homework the Maths teacher — diminutive, pot-bellied, pipe-smoke reeking, Mr. Barlow (“Wally” Barlow, we called him), of dry, sometimes caustic, wit — used to pick on one then another of us at random to give our answers to the questions that had been set; and from time to time also he would walk down the aisles separating the columns of desks in the classroom, looking at one then another of our exercise books. I had the page of the textbook turned over to conceal the incriminating graffito, which I may already have made an attempt to erase; but the imprint of the pencil through the page must have been noticeable, because Wally did notice it. He flipped the page over. Pause —
“What’s this, Cooper?” he asked in a quieter version of his reedy but strident, nasal teaching voice.
I was at a loss to reply. It was perfectly obvious what it was, and moreover, didn’t take a great effort of the imagination to discern why it was, but Wally acted dumb.
“What is it, laddie?” he persisted. “Mm?”
Eventually, the ordeal of burning embarrassment ended, and all he required of me to make amends was to go to the book-shop that was in Abingdon Street, Blackpool, and buy a replacement.
Thursday 9th September 1965
2. The first day of Autumn Term at the Grammar School, Fleetwood, was usually a Thursday, and this year was no exception. This arrangement was presumably so that for a couple of days pupils could get used to the idea of being back there before the academic work began in earnest on the following Monday. Why it was that I wrote the following day’s date in a blue-covered, foolscap-size exercise book that was issued to me, I don’t know.
I can’t remember the precise arrangements that were made for those who had completed their Ordinary Level courses and now wanted to go into the “lower sixth” form to do Advanced Level. I seem to remember feeling apprehensive when I entered the building, not only because I would have felt apprehensive anyway on the first day back after the long summer holidays, but also because I was worried about whether they were really expecting me at school. As far as I remember, I hadn’t indicated to them any intention to go back there, or expressed any preferences for subjects to study, after doing my O-levels and finishing the 1964–65 academic year. Perhaps it was just assumed that anyone getting so far would continue and study something. I had even expressed a desire — to my Mum, I think; I probably felt I wouldn’t get a sympathetic hearing from my Dad — to leave school after doing my O-levels; but in the event I followed the line of least resistance and went back to do my A-levels.
Top:4. In the end, they persuaded me to do Physics, Chemistry and Maths, and drop Biology, which, they said, for some reason, was “a woman’s subject.”
5. Each morning we, the pupils of the Lower Sixth Form, gathered in our form-room for the calling of the register. I think this was after the full Assembly in the hall. Our form teacher was dumpy, middle-aged Mrs. F. E. Elliott (“Effie”, we called her).
6. One of the first lessons of the new term was Pure Maths, held in the room to the north-west of point G; the door to the room was just within the girls’ corridor. The teacher was Mr. Robinson — I can’t remember much more about him than that he was older, thinner and a lot taller than Wally Barlow, and unlike Wally Barlow didn’t particularly have a sense of humour. The first lesson was about Co-ordinate Geometry and was based on the textbook Elementary Analysis by Dakin and Porter.
A letter from the Williamses
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