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Friday, 26 August 2011

Cider and Stupidity

I was giving my daughter and son-in-law a lift to a party the other Saturday night.  As we were driving along, I remarked that I rather liked early Saturday evening, as the streets are full of young people in their best outfits, all full of hope and expectation for their night out before… “that’s dashed by cider and stupidity” my son-in-law chipped in.  I thought this was such a good phrase, and so accurate, that I just had to steal it for this article.  You see, if anyone’s hopes and aspirations were frequently dashed by cider and stupidity, then it was me. 

August is a trying month for most students.  By now, everyone should have had their ‘A’ Level and GCSE results and I really admire the bravery, but question the wisdom, of those students who were bold enough to open their results letter on live national television.  It was just as well that I was not placed in that situation when I received my GCE and CSE results back in August, 1970.

There were not many subjects at which I excelled at school, but English was definitely one subject in which I consistently did well, mostly because I enjoyed it.  English Literature was a favourite of mine and I was generally expected to achieve a good Pass in my exam, so much so, that I had been accepted to study the subject at ‘A’ Level at Burton Technical College.  Anglesey, my school in Clarence Street, did not have a Sixth Form.  In fact, the Fifth Form that I was in was a relatively recent addition, and it was still the case that the majority of students left Anglesey, with no formal qualifications, at the end of the Fourth Year.

The exam was scheduled to take place on the afternoon of a hot, early summer, Thursday.  Thursdays were my dad’s pay day and I had fallen into the habit of meeting him at The Union in Union Street to get some pocket money, scrounge a cigarette or two and, I regret to say, have a pint of cider.  This had not been a problem in the latter weeks of the school year, as we did not have to attend school, although we were expected to be at home, revising.  Whether it was wise to call in at the pub immediately before an important exam, I’ll leave you to judge.

The main problem with English Literature is that you need to be able to quote extensively from the works that you have been studying, to demonstrate your understanding of the texts.  I have always had a poor memory but I had tried to memorise a few relevant quotes for the exam.  Unfortunately, a pint of cider, on a relatively empty stomach, and on a hot day, is not a wonderful means of improving one’s mental capacity.  Sitting in the oppressive heat of the examination room, it was all I could do to stay awake, let alone recall choice quotes from Macbeth. 

To add to my distraction, there was a bee mooching around on the window next to my desk.  I have always had a horror of being stung and now, in my alcohol-induced haze, I was transfixed by this insect.  Try as I might to concentrate on the question, my mind wandered and my eyes remained glued to the bee and its meanderings.  I could only recall two of the batch of useful quotes that I had tried to commit to memory and was reduced to using these over and over again to support a wide range of points in an ever more tenuous fashion.   

Needless to say, my work did not achieve the standard expected and, in that August, I learned to my horror that I had actually managed to fail an exam that I was supposed to go on to study at ‘A’ Level.  It was only thanks to the understanding nature of Burton Technical College, and some relatively reasonable results in my other exams, that I was able to carry on with my studies.

The first collection of stories - "Steady Past Your Granny's" is now available in Kindle e-book format at Amazon UK and Amazon USA