Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Potted blog biog: part three – schooldays fondly remembered

Upon my recovery after several months, the residual cranial weakness (I am left with, as I recently discovered a half- by one-inch hole in my skull, covered only by scar-tissue) condemned me, at my next, private, public school, to excel at sport only in the swimming pool. What torture!
You might think me cynical, given my amphibious upbringing – not so. The outdoor pool, the exclusive preserve in the early season of the swimming squad, had no heating and we started training soon after ice-melt, it seemed to us. On the other hand, in high summer we were positively Germanic in our determination to bagsy with our towels the sunniest out-of-wind poolside spots on which we recovered between aqueous exertions while watching the sun traverse the heavens, beating off any sweaty cricketers who dared tread upon our preserve.
And so blissful years passed, swimming in summer and avoiding rugby in winter. It seemed the school was unaware of my frailty and only my instinct for self-preservation kept me on the wing in the lower leagues, avoiding the clumsy embraces of oafish forwards with darting runs, sometimes to the try-line even, but not so often that I be promoted.
A new joy discovered was the game of fives (Rugby, not Eton) in which one hit a leather-covered golf-ball around a concrete court with one’s gloved hands. Both hands are used, the rules are crudely similar to squash, the ball travels very fast, and one’s hands feel the size of boxing gloves for several weeks at the season’s start.
My first disgrace was to, after passing through the CCF (army cadets) qualifications with distinction, refusing to join the Cadre, the officer-training squad from which most school monitors (prefects) were eventually drawn, and joining the engineering section where we could build rope bridges and suchlike rather than endlessly drilling. My punishment was to be placed at front of class in the French lessons, directly in the firing line of the spluttering Colonel Bourne, head of the CCF.
After the routine of collecting O’levels like postage-stamps and discarding, like a torn stamp, Latin, I finally reached the pinnacle of my academic career, achieved by only a handful, if that, of all the boys passing through the halls of this educational system of ours: I was expelled for revising for my Art A’level exam.
To be expelled for taking a day off lessons to revise for the next morning’s exam may seem illogical to those of you not brought up in the Great Tradition of the English Public School, but let me assure you there was a greater force at work here: discipline.
It was not that I had taken the day off lessons to revise (this exam was a month ahead of the main batch, during which all time between exams was set aside for revision); it was that I had been intemperate enough to go to my headmaster and ask permission to take a day off to revise; permission denied. My headmaster may not have been privy to my knowledge that the circumstance was indeed extenuating, to wit, that, having done no serious work up to that point, at least one day’s strenuous effort was imperative to avoid total failure.
But this calling into play of an appeal to common sense, arguing that revising was essential to my success and the school’s reputation, counted for nothing beside the unforgivable breach of discipline in the act of ‘deliberately going against the express order of your headmaster.’
So ended my academic ambition, with my one-day-art-history dragging my A-grade down to a B, expelled and reinstated but disillusioned, I stuttered on through awful Maths and Physics to the prospect of Art School.
After an acceptance by two top London Art Schools was stymied by my local authority’s insistence on a pre-diploma year at their own local academy first, I went to study Photography and Film in London having been granted, on presentation of my portfolio, an exemption from that pre-diploma year by the same local college!
After a year of photography, it was movie-time! I launched with enthusiasm into the prospect of producing unadulterated fiction. I co-directed and edited a short film, ‘Mummy, mummy,’ with a fellow-student, John Beech. This film won the Southampton student film festival in its category, was honourably mentioned at the Mons Film Festival, France, I am told, and won both the Don Quixote and Best Foreign Short Film categories at the Cracow Film Festival in Poland.
I then gained the singular accolade of writing, producing and directing the only film commissioned by the infant Race Relations Board to be banned by the Race Relations Board (something to do with a mismatch of humours, I am told).
My venture into fictional film making was cut short at the end of the year by my failure in the film chemistry exam and my refusal to retake it; a decision partially influenced by that fact that I had also lost my folio of potential scripts for the final year in a Wimpy Bar – that was the burger bar that had an apparently ‘addictive’ tomato ketchup.
(next week… ketchup, sauce of embarrassment)
To the odd reader who may mark my words – a week can be an awfully long time here.