More Sage than Onion   by Keith Royales


I don't know whether Vinnie is being overly modest here but the memory which he claims got him through O level exams isn't as good as he imagines. Certainly, poetic licence aside, my recollections have more than once been at variance with his and I do have a good recall.
So, to give him the benefit of the doubt, let's assume our memories are as good as each other's. It then begs the question why my results were nowhere near as good as his - especially since I put more slog into revising than Vinnie ever did.
The reason is that Vinnie is very bright - just like Roger Yearn. The two of them were always held in high regard in this respect by the rest of us and in another world and social class the pair of them may even have been considered brilliant. It was not all to do  with his powers of recollection but an understanding immediately of what was being delivered to us. It was this intelligence that carried them both through - if you grasp the concept first time there is no need to labour over it like the rest of us had to or, especially in my case, learn it by heart in the cases where I just couldn't grasp it at all.
I'll give you a couple of examples - both with John Evans. The first concerned vapour pressure. John had introduced us to the concept of liquids having a vapour pressure and that this was a measure of the liquid's volatilty. Now that bit was easy. With a liquid like ether you could actually see the vapour coming off and condensing again and so it was easy to understand this property. But then John said that vapour pressures are not confined to liquids only - but to solids as well. Now we were moving into incomprehendable territory.
John asked, "How do we know solids have a vapour pressure?" (I hadn't a bloody clue)
Quick as a flash Vinnie answers, "Because we can smell them".
John nods and smiles.
There were many such examples with  Vinnie and Roger but it would more often than not be Vinnie who proferred the answer since The Fat Dog was a reticent chap (Speak up Yearn - Pardon Sir?)
Another example, which I must admit I am still grappling with even to this day, concerned colloids. John was explaining to us that liquid colloids were neither suspensions nor solutions but somewhere in between. Now as I was still trying to get my head around this (I'm still not sure I do even to this day) John went on to say that this is not confined to liquids only but to gases too.
"Can someone give me an example of a gaseous colloidal system?"
Vinnie awoke from his reverie (for he appeared to me to be constantly in one) and replied idly,"Aerosol spray".  John, "Correct".
Not only had he grasped what liquid colloids were but immediately transferred this to other systems. Genius.
I remember once there were several of us in discussion in between lessons. Someone asked "Why religion? Why do have have this concept at all?"
Vinnie paused whilst putting both hands out and spreading his fingers (he still does this today) and replied, "Mankind is a modest creature. We deny our own place in the scheme of things".
When modesty was being handed out Vinnie may have been first in the queue.


I can identify with his being denied a Prefecture. I was too. At the end of our  lower sixth year - a list of all those who had served as a prefect on a probation basis (presumably all of us) was sent round the staff who then voted for a set number of the prefects who they favoured. As Vinnie said, the list was then read out but my name, also, was not amongst it. I was gutted and couldn't understand why all of a sudden I had become unpopular with the entire staff. That was until I was informed by a member of staff that, in fact, my name was joint highest score with a couple of others. But on reading this list Charlie took a pen and crossed out my name. Probably did the same with Vinnie.
It didn't stop there. Charlie once announced in assembly that all those wishing to apply to University must line up in the foyer afterwards. This we duly did and Charlie then started handing out the application forms. I remember this so very well - I can even remember where we were standing, me at one end of the line and Vinnie at the exact opposite. Charlie started at my end, missing me out, went down the line and stopped before he reached Vinnie. To add further to this humiliation he then stepped back and asked have we all got a form? Vinnie and I held up our hands whereupon Charlie turned round and went to his office. I had to apply independently (Ron Jackson was a massive help in this regard) and when it came to the grant application (again independently applied for) I required Charlie's signature on it. He took the form from me at his desk and signed it whilst at the same time saying "You're deluding yourself, Royales" and slid the form over in my direction. This was the worst example of humiliation by Charlie of the many I suffered at his hands. When one member of staff heard about all this he went to Charlie and told him in no uncertain terms what he thought of this kind of behaviour. I only learned of this recently.
I think I can trace back to the incident which led to his intense dislike of me and, if I'm right, it is a grudge he bore me for six years. Perhaps Vinnie also unknowingly crossed him in his naieve younger days.
At the end of the upper sixth we had a party at school. This was after all the University acceptances were known. Charlie had come and during the course of the evening he came over to me and shook my hand and said to me,"I always knew you could do it, Keith." This made my opinion of him even worse. I can respect a man who sticks to his convictions but to do an about turn after all the misery he caused me was rather spineless I thought. "I'm sorry, Royales, I got it wrong", would have preferable. Now that would have taken backbone.
I can admire all the things he did for the school, not always appreciated by the staff - in fact one much admired teacher said to me that most of us were educated despite, not because of, Charlie Bell. But he steered the school to its becoming the best in Oldham  - and we all came out with an excellent education.
But I can never forgive him for the way he treated me.

Anyway, to the point I originally intended when I started this - and this is the only point Vinnie expected, after discussng it with him when I received his current piece. Potholing.
Yes I remember Vinnie potholing extremely well. In fact I may still have the newspaper cutting that Roger sent me about Vinnie having to be rescued from below. He had misjudged his stamina and gone down further than was wise.
There was a photograph of a very wet, knackered Vinnie with a blackened face staring vacantly into the camera. The strapline was "Exhausted".
This was too good an opportunity to miss and so The Dog and I went down to the Union Bar one evening to seek out Vinnie and, like good mates do, take the piss.
He was well into his cups by the time we found him and was amongst his potholing mates. We ripped into him mercilessly "Do you want to sit down Vinnie? You're looking tired. Not exhausted are we?" etc. He didn't see the funny side - so we did it even more. He then shrugged his shoulders and joined in laughing at himself. We had a good evening with him and his mates which culminated with a game they had devised, specifically for potholers. The seats in the bar area were upholstered and had metal legs. These were put in line side by side so that the legs formed a tunnel. Each potholer took it in turn to crawl through this tunnel whilst the others bounced up and down on the seats to simulate a roof collapse. One had to crawl through as quick as one could and had to avoid being bounced on.
Vinnie told me all potholing evenings ended in this manner.

From Vinnie....

                  "Drowning with an Olympic Swimming Medal"  

             I feel quite embarrassed by your "footnotes" (big notes, big feet) and  I recognise I might, on occasion, have appeared brilliant to the casual observer. I remember well the two scientific answers - but the religious/philosophical incident is less clear but seems about right. 

            You have made me think about what I wrote and indeed I still have a gift for a "sound bite".  This facility for answering a poser instantly perhaps convinced me I fully understood things on which I had only a very tenuous hold.   Much of my "knowledge" was of this ephemeral  sort.  I still believe things achieved without work, whether material things or knowledge are less worthy than those which have required  some effort and that work and effort are more likely to weld things into the knowledge bank than the  "unconscious inspiration" which was the basis of my supposed genius.  Note the admiring reference to the "incomers" from other schools.  In short easy come, easy go.  This may be why you have to correct my science so often.  I am an unreconstructed Newtonian and the science I use today can be carried out on that basis. 

                     Mike Harding, the Rochdale Cowboy, (the other celebrity that went to Mather College), had a routine in his act about his poor upbringing.  "One dark night I pulled a piece of cardboard out of the bedroom window.  A whole pane!  I stared at the millions of stars.  Look at all them up there and you down here.  What's it all about?  It's got bugger all to do with you. So I turned over and went to sleep."  That about sums up my attitude  to multiple infinities of infinite universes coming into being in no time at all.  I put it down to residues of hallucinogens in the gene pool from the sixties and seventies drug culture affecting the minds of the present day  scientists.  I've only just got used to a round Earth.

                       Groucho Marx said he had "a mousetrap mind" meaning his wisecracks were out of his mouth before he had chance to hear them himself.  On his long running American TV show, "You Bet Your Life" a female contestant admitted to an enormous number of children and on hearing the audience's reaction to this quickly interjected "It's because I love my husband"  Groucho's instant response was,"I kinda like my cigar but I take it out sometimes"  The switchboard lit up and had he been a lesser compere he would have been looking for another job.  He did not appreciate what a rude remark he had made until later, sober reflection.  I sometimes come out with unintentional insults being a sufferer from the same syndrome.  I probably got a lot of my answers wrong but, like sunny days, the best ones are what we remember.

                      I come from your own generation where we were not encouraged to take our light from under the bushel.  Alan Bennet sums up our sort of childhood. Don't show off. Don't draw attention to yourself   Garrison Keillor was similarly exhorted.  His mother, like mine said , among other put downs,"Wear Navy blue"   I still don't like parading my intelligence except when I'm Quizzing or for comic effect.  I don't believe I should take credit for God? given ability.

                    Finally the insight into why we were not prefects goes some way to ending nearly 44  years of wondering what crime I had committed to negate all the good things I had done at Hathershaw.  Perhaps bearding Charlie in his den about restricting,  then cancelling  the debate on abortion was ill advised.  I can imagine him now circling my name like in "Viva Zapata" or like Joseph Stalin committing some liberal to a Gulag.  I still can't understand what he had against a "Golden Boy" like yourself.

.........................................................................................................................................