Let’s start this with some boasting!
My school report from good ol’ Prospicimus Secondary Modern shows a number of things, firstly that through all five years I was never out of the “A” stream!
Sorry I forgot! Streaming is now considered an elitist and outmoded concept and anyone who left school after the mid – 1970s probably won’t even know what it was.
For those not as old and decrepit as I “streaming” was the application of the English Football League to each school year!
The “A” stream were the Premier League students, the “B” stream, the Championship and so on down to Coca Cola League 2, the “D” stream. There were annual exams in each subject with promotion and relegation (just relegation for the “A” stream!) for the overall best/worst performers.
Thankfully the concept of “play-offs” never occurred to them!
Anyway we’ve established that I was in the top bracket of the school all the way through (and I cannot think that there was anyone who made it to 5A who hadn’t also been an “A” from start to finish), so there!
Within that class the reports also show that while my position may have varied in some subjects (including the Physics Disaster in 3A when I went from 1st out of 21 at the halfway mark to 21st out of 21 at the year end – my Mum was dangerously ill at the time!) in one subject I was consistently in the top three or four.
And THAT, believe it or not, was English Language!
I was often kept off the top spot by “Dickie” Wright – a boy who went on to buy his own second hand bookshop not too long after we left school while I wound up in the bloody Tax Office! The reason for my second place was not the quality of the work I turned in but the QUANTITY!
In the 4th and 5th years we were studying for GCE “O” Levels (which we all passed) and these were obtained entirely by examination – no coursework was involved at all. So what we were doing in class was practising to pass the exams! As I have already related elsewhere, the English Language course we were doing involved a number of “Comprehension” questions and a lot of creative writing.
Our teacher, a friendly man with a sense of humour in tune with our own, would set us writing tasks for homework and would tell us that he expected between 250 and 500 words from us. In terms of A4 lined paper (everything was, of course handwritten) this meant roughly one side of paper minimum and two sides maximum for each essay.
My problem was that I had usually managed to say all that I wanted to say on most subjects in between 150 and 200 words and while what I HAD said was acknowledged to be good I would frequently receive marks of 6 or 7 out of 10 with a comment such as “MORE!” from the teacher. From my viewpoint I felt that having said all I wanted to I had neither the skill nor the inclination to “pad it out”.
This actually developed into a sort of “battle of wills” between Mr Mallett (or Mullett, I can’t quite remember now) and I.
On one occasion, not too long after our final year commenced, he set us to write a fictional piece on “Smuggling” .The usual rules as to maximum and minimum length would apply he told us, looking pointedly at me!
Now it just so happened that I had been on holiday the previous summer to the Isle of Wight (off the South coast of England) to an area rich in smuggling stories and caves and tunnels in the cliffs.
Just for once, therefore, I had mental pictures of the location, the scenery and the background already available to me – all I had to do was rough out a plot and fill it in. I was inspired and I wrote and wrote until I had said all I wanted to!
The result, when I came to hand it in, was SIX sides of A4 and something over 1500 words! It didn’t bother me that I had gone over the 500 words maximum – I just thought that I’d redressed the average a little bit!
Apparently my teacher thought so too. When I got the paper back he had written on it:
“9 1/2 out of 10.
1 House Point.
O.K. I give in!”
Since school I have not suffered from a shortage of words (I bet sometimes you wish I did!) probably because NOW I only write about things that I want to!
Rather late in his life (which ended ,sadly, in September 2006) my Father became aware that his experiences as a teenager during World War 2 and his three years as a conscript from February 1945 would be of interest to his descendants and decided to write them down. To do this, incidentally, Dad taught himself to use a computer and do Word Processing – not bad for a bloke in his 70s!
I have the resulting document to edit and put on CD for the rest of the family and the particular note (made after one of his revisions of it) which inspired this whole article was this:
“For those who like useless statistics the number of words has increased to 93,908. I mention this only because of the satisfaction I get from commanding my machine to count the words and marvelling at the speed with which it does so.”
Did you get that? He sat down and rolled out nearly NINETY FOUR THOUSAND words in a fairly short space of time from his memories of things that had happened over 50 years previously!
I am SO impressed with that achievement that I cannot put it into ANY number of words!
PS. If anyone is interested in MY statistics, the total number of words in this article (excluding the title) is 1030. Oh and somewhere in the top third of it my total wordage, since starting this blog in late February 2009, went over 20,000. Still some way to go to outdo Dad then!