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When came the time to think about what “O” levels I was going to sit there really wasn’t much choice, the school would only let me attempt those they felt I might pass, so that meant I had just five subjects for which I would be taking lessons for the fifth year in secondary school. The subjects were Art, Geography, English Language, English Literature and Music, I honestly was not good at any of them but at least I was slightly interested in three of them, the two English subjects were forced upon me as the school insisted every pupil took them. If however, there had been an “O” level in daydreamin’ I’m sure I would have surpassed all expectations. However, five subjects didn’t fill up a school day so in order that pupils didn’t hang around doing nothing they had to spend time in other lessons for subjects they were not studying; one of the classes I had to attend was chemistry, with a teacher who was not a pleasant character.

I’ve said before, school and I were not compatible, academia was not something in which I could apply myself, give me a bundle of wires and something to connect them and I’d play for hours, or I’d while away homework time strumming the guitar; as you can see, I was not a model pupil, study for me was a mental struggle. The mathematic subjects were the most difficult to come to terms with, I could just about get my head around geometry as much of it involved drawing and working out angles and things and usually I would achieve a basic pass of about 50%. Arithmetic was different and I struggled with such things as compound interest and multiple fractions and other devious calculatory problems with which my brain was unable to cope. Algebra though, was a completely different ball game, now just what was that all about? I had no idea, it was meaningless to me and at exam time I managed a result of 2% for two consecutive years, which really was abysmal.

Looking back, the main problem was the school itself, being private each year group would be in just one class, so with up to thirty children of all academic levels in one class it was inevitable the slower among them would get left behind and that’s exactly what happened with me, I couldn’t keep up, and wasn’t interested in trying after being labelled as a no-hoper. To exacerbate the problem, a couple of the teachers were not particularly pleasant, the maths teacher was one of them, an obnoxious little man with an acerbic tongue and bad temper, his poor teaching skills only served to alienate those of us who were struggling in his subjects. Oddly the same teacher took us for games and he took great delight in inflicting misery upon the weaker children forcing them into situations where he knew we wouldn’t cope, it was for this reason I usually found some means of avoiding games. This same teacher also took Chemistry and Physics which is where in the fifth year I once again found myself in one of his classes.

It really was rather an odd situation, I was only in the chemistry class because I had nowhere else to go in the school and although I wasn’t taking chemistry this mean little man insisted I participate. In other classes in which I had to sit during a school day I was allowed to get on with my own work quietly, as were others in my situation, not in chemistry though we had to take part. Now as you will expect, chemical formulae is much like algebra, totally meaningless to me and relied much on memory. One day he sprung a class test upon us and fired off a number of questions to which we had to write a formula, needless to say every single answer of mine was wrong and he made me stand up while his acerbic tongue stripped me bare. Eventually he snarled through gritted teeth “Get out of my class, go and wait by the Head Mistress’ door”.

I was extremely upset by this, not by having to go and see the Head, but by being shown-up in front of the whole class. The visit to the Head was not something I relished, but I knew how it would end, there’d be a telephone call to my parents and I’d have to face their disappointed look when I got home, although nothing much would ever be said about the episode. One good thing came of it though, I didn’t have to attend chemistry again, other arrangements were made for me to sit in with another class in which I would not be expected to participate.

I have no idea whether this teacher would still be alive or not, I guess he was probably not much more than fifteen to twenty years older than I so might now be in his eighties. If you should chance upon this tale Mr W, I hope you recognise yourself and feel just some little regret and perhaps shame for the pitiable memories I retain of your distasteful involvement in my young life.

My school, photograph courtesy of Tony Dare-Edwards.