Santander rang me a couple of days ago. Did I want to go and work in their call centre in Sunderland? No, not really. I’m assuming a certain amount of mathematical acumen is required and they were talking to someone who can’t count to ten. If there is such a thing as numerical dyslexia then I have it. Adding up golf score cards, when I used to play, was a complete embarrassment, and I use my fingers to calculate the simplest of sums.
I’ve been back to school, and once again in the STEM building at Thorp Academy . The STEM building is slap bang in the middle of where the hockey pitch used to be when I was a pupil, and so my mind always wanders back to the halcyon days gone by when I’d last stood on that particular spot. It will have been sometime in 1974 (by 1975 I’d discovered truant) shivering in my Airtex vest doing everything possible to avoid the ball. When the dreaded hard heavy lump of plastic did steal its way in my direction, my policy was to hit anything that moved, without discriminating between the ball and a human shin. My abiding memory of hockey was failing to grasp the offside rule, the cold, and rarely being allowed to wear a long-sleeved top. I assume this Dickensian measure was put in place to force us to run about more, but it only succeeded in making us miserable, and when I look back at a photograph taken at the time, I note that the teacher is wearing a full track suit, gloves, and a bobble hat. Had I simply been comfortable, I might well have taken sport more seriously, and come to enjoy it in adulthood far earlier – I was pushing thirty when I took up running and discovered its benefits.
I have however been having a lovely time invigilating GCSE and A level exams at Thorp Academy. I’ve always known that I’m incredibly thick, but now I find I’m even thicker than first thought. I browsed through the papers for Biology. When I failed Biology CSE, it was all about where the heart was in relation to the kidneys (I still don’t know) but now you need a calculator to sit the exam. Why? I’m sure my seven-year-old twin niece and nephew will explain.
I do think that I could have a stab at the English Language paper without study, GCSE, certainly, but not A level even though I hold an ‘A’ in the qualification, obtained in a school hall with seventy teenagers when I was 32. Exams seem to be so hard now, I picked up a scientific calculator left on a desk…no bloody clue what to do with it. Nevertheless, strolling past a table during the English Language exam, I knew that one of the questions involved writing a letter to a newspaper editor. Glancing down I observed, Dear Sir at the top, and then Yours sincerely at the bottom. I was dying to say, but regrettably I could not.
I left Thorp Academy in 1976. It was Ryton Comprehensive then and I was never happy other than when I was sitting at a desk in front of Richard Reid. Bullying went unchallenged, it was badly run and there was no opportunity to engage in the performing arts, or play in a sport of your choice. For girls it was either hockey or netball, both bloody boring, whereas now there is a female football team.
Walking through the school on Friday, it just seemed so wonderful. Desks are grouped around the middles of the classrooms, there’s a climbing wall in one of the two sports halls, and a modern drama room with proper drama teachers. Science, Engineering and Technology are actively encouraged for both boys and girls. All very different to my day when during Home Economics, only allowed for girls not for boys, we devoted an entire hour on how to push back the cuticles on our fingernails. Dozens of men now roam Ryton with un-pushed back cuticles because they missed the lesson, having had to sit through woodwork and metalwork instead. Opportunities were never provided in my time, they are numerous now to anyone who wants to take them. I’m envious.