Sunday, 13 December 2015

Education, form 5G

 So I was 14 at the start of the school year (1963-4).

The big thing about the fifth form, was O levels at the end of the school year. I had done the easy ones last year, so this year I had Technical Drawing, Latin, Geography, History and Additional Maths. Technical Drawing would be a doddle, I knew, which was the only reason I did it. 50% of the marks would be for geometry, which is maths, and I'd probably pass on those alone, with extra marks for drawing plans and elevations. I think I got an A. I got an A for Additional Maths, of course. Latin wouldn't be so easy, but I worked hard on that and managed to get a C. Geography was another C, but History was an H. H for Horrible. It was the lowest grade possible, and it didn't surprise me at all. I just could not understand what it was all about.

During the year, we did lots more calculus, both differential and integral, and I lapped it up. I also did stuff not on the syllabus - matrices and quaternions, for example, just because I enjoyed it so much.

In chemistry, we did analysis, which was great fun. You were given a small amount of "something", and by doing various tests, you had to work out what was in that "something". This also let us practice the skills of titration, weighing, filtration, solution and so on. Of course, I was already doing all that in my home chemistry lab.

In physics we did sound, pendulums, lenses and heat transfer. I learned to write up an experiment, which unfortunately reinforced the rather stultified writing style that I'd learned in English classes. In my view, at school I wasn't taught how to write, I was taught how not to write. It was a decade or two later that I learned how to write. But in physics, we were told to use the passive voice, to use long latinate words in convoluted sentences and to generally write in a very obfuscated way.

It was that year that I saw my first digital computer. It was a Pegasus, all valves, and I remember seeing it, but we weren't allowe to actually do anything. I felt a strong tug, though. That looks like fun! At that point, though, I didn't know it was to be my destiny.

In electronics, I added a couple of transistors to my crystal radio, which meant that I could play the output through one of the speakers that I'd salvaged from a dumped TV. I also made a multivibrator circuit, which I developed into a musical instrument that I could play by using my grip on a wire to change the resistance and hence the frequency.

And I got my first job. A cousin of mine told me about it. I applied to Zetters, the football pools company, for a job. I worked Saturday evening and Sunday, and it paid really well, I think I got £2 18 shillings for the Saturday, and even more for the Sunday. The work was pretty tedious, but not long after I started, I took their exams to move up from grade 4 to grade 3, which meant more interesting work (and a pay rise). Eventually, I passed the grade 1 exam (I remember I scored 100% on it), which tested my knowledge of permutations and combinations, which is maths, of course, and therefore not difficult for me. As a grade 1, I got the most interesting (i.e., difficult) work to do.

At school, we were in the remainder of the fire-damaged school, plus some prefabs that they put up in front of it. The effect of this was that things were pretty normal, as far as education was concerned. All the labs were intact, fortunately. And the gym, unfortunately.

Grocers was an all-boys school, and during this year, I turned 15. Girls were no longer a species to be avoided, but an interesting mystery that needed to be investigated. So I joined Habonim. This is a Socialist Zionist Jewish youth movement, but I didn't care about the politics. We learned Israeli songs and dances, played various games, did night walks and received a smattering of indoctrination, and suddenly, without my realising it at the time, history came into focus. When history was about the Tudors and the Stuarts, I couldn't see the point, but when I learned about the Holocaust, is seemed a lot more relevant. I didn't learn much about girls.

The objective of Habonim is Aliyah, emigration to Israel. I went to Israel Camp a couple of years later, and I greatly enjoyed six weeks touring around the country in the back of a truck, plus a couple of weeks spreading manure on a farm, but by then, I knew that I didn't want to be a farmer. Plus, I didn't like the heat, and I'm rubbish at learning languages (my poor efforts at French and Latin taught me that).

At the end of the year, we had to choose what we'd study in the 6th form. The choices were: maths, biology, economics and arts. In my view, biology was just messy and led to medicine, arts were for people who couldn't even do biology, and economics were for the complete failures. I, of course, chose to go into Sixth Maths Lower. I wanted to do maths, physics and chemistry, but they told me I could only do two out of those three, so I reluctantly dropped chemistry.


  1. I hope you realise by now that these Education posts need to be combined and preserved, for your (great)grandchildren. Keep them coming. I'm still waiting to discover when you learnt to ride a bike.

  2. That's still to come; don't worry, I haven't forgotten.

  3. I'm looking forward to the bit where you meet Lady Solly

  4. I could post the video of you being born ...