Learning to Live
by Nigel Marland
I know comparisons are odious but after reading Keith and Vinnie’s pieces I felt the need to cast my mind back to that “O”Level, “A” level period. It’s funny isn’t it, that when you actually concentrate your mind on a particular period all sorts of memories come flooding back? Suddenly the mainly mechanical nature of learning at “O” level was transformed into creative thinking and low level research.
Despite getting a 1 in Physics and a 2 in Chemistry at “O” level, I always knew I wanted to go down the Arts side. With 1’s in English, Eng Lit and History, two “A” level subjects, History and Eng. Lit. were no brainers but where was I to find a third as Geography had been dropped after the third year: we had to choose between Geography and History. This had never been a problem before as by and large only girls did the Arts subjects and they only needed 2 “A” levels to get into Training College which was all that was expected of them. (How sad)
I might have alluded to this in one of the earlier pieces on the site and if so I apologise, but I asked Ron Jackson if he would be prepared to teach us “A” level Economics. I’ll never forget his answer, “No”. He explained he’d just done P, P, E at Manchester and the E had been a nightmare that he never wanted to experience again.
Ironically I fully understood what he meant three years later when I was in the first year of my University course which comprised of Politics, Human Geography, Economic History, Sociology and Economics. You had to pass all 5 elements to get through to the second year. Economics for me was an absolute no hoper, I didn’t understand a thing. I knew when I took the final exam that I would be lucky to get double figures and was dreading the thought of a resit in an exam I could never pass.
Imagine my surprise when viewing the results on the notice board I discovered I had passed all elements and was through to the second year. Walking back to the Students Union I was met by Professor Meek, the Professor of Economics who had been my Economics tutor.
“You’re looking shocked Mr Marland”, he said. “Yes, I replied, it appears I passed Economics.”
“Ah well, I fortunately was on the exam board and explained that your disastrous result in Economics was not likely to be improved upon , no matter how many resits you took and your other results were excellent, so we made a rare exception of you and let you through to the second year despite your abysmal Economics result.” How lucky was that?
Ron was not just negative however he suggested we try and convince Charlie to allow us to take a relatively new “A” level, British Government, which had replaced the previously historically weighted British Constitution. Not only would this be a leap in the dark for a Technical High School but it would also mean a great deal of expense in providing a library of books to facilitate the course.
Charlie, as you can imagine, was very suspicious of such new courses, but we finally persuaded him and Mike, Brian Heywood (Babyface), Alan Wardle and I signed up for British Government. I absolutely loved the course and Ron Jackson taught us like University students rather than the mechanical rote learning that had been apparent at O” level. This gave me a massive advantage at University as I was one of only a few who were accustomed to the University style of teaching.
It was also at this time that I had my first experiences of drama and theatre. Unlike Keith and Mike I had taken no part in school productions in the first five years. I still can’t remember whether I put myself forward for a part in “Begin and Never Cease” or whether Peter Halliwell encouraged me to do so. This period is very vague and I wonder what caused me to take the chance as I still had quite a bad speech defect at this time, of which I was very conscious. Whatever it was, it worked as the part of Private Carver, showed me that once I was on stage being someone else my speech defect disappeared. Suddenly I was now putting myself forward for debating and assembly readings which before had been no go areas.
When in the next production I was chosen to play Bottom in ”A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, my confidence was at its highest and I honestly believe that but for this my life would never have taken the path that it has. So, as you can see the “A” level years for me were life changing and amongst the happiest days of my life. To add to this Ron Jackson introduced us to the better things in life and took us out to Restaurants and encouraged us to go to the theatre. Food and theatre has ever since played a major part in my life, the former no doubt furthering the justification of the nickname ‘Barrel’.
I have to admit that I had an excellent relationship with Charlie, especially in the Sixth Form, and it troubles me to hear of others whose experiences were not so good. I can’t put my finger on the reason for this and am sad that others didn’t have the relationship and experiences I had in this respect. Although Charlie was academically inferior to the majority of his staff and in many ways educationally naïve and old fashioned, and obviously not without faults he brought together a teaching staff that of its time was second to none and this is what made the school so special and the reason this site is now so proactive and alive over 40 years after we left the school.
It wasn’t all good however; Charlie suspended me for skipping school to go electioneering during the 1966 General Election called by Harold Wilson as he only had a majority of 4 from the ’64 Election.
British Government had convinced me I wanted to do a Politics degree and The University of Sussex was my choice, with Blondel the Professor and the Jay twins there, but they wanted A,B,C at “A” level and of course the modern language that I still hadn’t got and still haven’t to this day. I decided to go for the safe option of Leicester who offered me three “C”s and no need for a foreign language. This proved to be sensible because although I got the A, B, C, German as ever evaded me.
I have no regrets and perhaps, in the mould of Vinnie, there might be another chapter on life after Hathershaw.