Whatever happened to the future?

18 Mar

When I was at school (it always seems to come back to school, doesn’t it?!), in the days of GCE “O” levels, examinations were set by a number of different Examining Boards.

Actually, a peek at my Daughters’ exam certificates shows that this still happens so younger readers should be able to keep up!

My school subscribed to the Associated Examining Board (AEB), a kind of unholy amalgam of the London, Oxford and Cambridge Boards and probably, knowing the way these things normally work, combining the worst of all three. Fortunately, in that day and age Employers just asked how many “O” levels you had got, not which board you got them from – so we weren’t disadvantaged.

Anyway, for the examination year 1969 the AEB decided to do an experimental English Language “O” level course. Instead of complicated stuff about parsing sentences, correct forms of grammar and précis, there were to be just two “simplified” papers.

One would comprise what was known as “Comprehension” and consisted of two or three lengthy pieces of text with questions to test whether or not you understood what you had read. In reality it was really just a test of whether you could READ and paraphrase the correct bit of the text so that it didn’t look like you were directly copying it!

The second paper comprised a list of (I think) ten subjects and the instruction to “write on three of the following”. This was perfect for me – the only slight snag being that I could never usually think of enough to say! Anyone reading what I produce now will, no doubt, say that I obviously got over THAT problem somewhere in the intervening forty years!

I do not remember what the other two things I wrote on were titled but the one that sticks in my memory and which gave me the inspiration for this piece was this:

“If you could travel to any time and place, where would you go and why?”

Oh! The fun the Time Lord within me could have with that now!

“Raxacoricofallapatorius – in the time of the 4th great and bountiful human empire”!

Nevertheless I was, for once, not lacking in inspiration and went for “1986 to witness the return of Halley’s Comet!”

Remember, we are talking about a sixteen year old writing in 1969 – a jump to 1986 was more years in the future that I had LIVED at that point. Men were getting ready to land on the Moon in the next month or so – in short the future was exploding all around us!

I had become addicted to Science Fiction many years earlier with the adventures of Dan Dare in the Eagle comic and knew exactly what I wanted 1980s London to be like – that is to say all glass and chrome! In the piece I recorded arriving in London on my way to my observatory of choice in a clean, silent monorail train (I had read something about linear motors so I KNEW what the coming thing was to be in the field of mass transportation!) that twisted gracefully between the elegant buildings and down into the brightly lit and gleaming terminus.

At that point my recall fails and I guess it must have got a bit mundane after that.

What I really want to know now is:


London is, it has to be said, fairly well endowed now with what I would have thought of in 1969 as “futuristic” buildings but they stand amongst loads of rather grotty stuff from the last couple of hundred years that I must have assumed would simply have been cleared to make way for the new. No sentimentality. No thought of conservation “because it’s old”. Just sweep everything away and start afresh.

And where are the linear motor powered monorail trains? We are twenty three years past the “future” I wrote about and the nearest thing we have is the Docklands Light Railway!

The answer, of course lies within all the stuff I DIDN’T know at that time. Economics! Individual selfishness! A lack of any wish for change by the public! Pressure groups dedicated to making things NOT happen! Public Planning Inquiries! These and many other factors meant that with the best will in the world there was no way that my ideal world was really going to come about in 17 years, 40 years or, probably, 400 years.

The future is never going to be Dan Dare. It is far more likely to be Ridley Scott!  Alas!


PS. In 1986 I was living in a semi-detached red brick box on an estate, driving a five year old internal combustion engined car. Exactly as my parents had been when I did my exams! Oh, and the return of Halley’s Comet was rubbish too!

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Posted by on March 18, 2009 in Schooldays


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