I attended a private grammar school in the 1980s and although I gained many things from my time there, an affinity for studying hard or for examinations wasn’t among them. I attended until I was eighteen and I put in a modicum of effort, although the only subjects at which I had any kind of ability were French, the parts of physics which dealt with light and electricity, and the programming part of computer studies. Although I have gone on to love writing, thanks mainly to filling a blog for over twenty years and being nudged by a few influences into improving my grammar, I didn’t study English at school beyond GCSE-level. Some of the things I learned at school have remained with me, and many haven’t.
I became aware, in the latter stages of my time at school, that some teachers thought I had the potential to do well in my exams, so I was generously included in a small group of other sixth-formers to spend a day poking around Oxford University. The premise being that if I were to pull my finger out and get good exam results, I may have a reasonable chance of applying to study there. My finger remained firmly un-pulled, though, and I later decided that post-school education wasn’t for me. I satisfied myself with the social side of student life when occasionally visiting friends at universities in Cardiff and East London.
I digress. The trip to Oxford turned out to be pretty memorable, with the minibus ride up from Hampshire highlighted by a friend surreptitiously lighting a cigarette whilst the driving teacher remained oblivious. (Smoking was strictly forbidden amongst students at my school: not that this rule held any of us back.) When we were in Oxford, we trailed around a couple of colleges — I have little to no recollection of them — before having lunch in The Hall of Christ Church College.
Later in the afternoon, we were given some spare time to look around the city and while I wandered the streets alone, the others disappeared. As it later turned out, they headed straight for one of the pubs — The White Horse, next to Blackwell’s bookshop on Broad Street — to test both the quality of the local beer and the bartender’s lax approach to under-age drinking.