Sunday, 8 November 2015

A lesson learned

When I left school at sixteen in 1979 I had one ambition - to design record covers.  It seemed like it would be the perfect job, to create pictures to go with the music I loved.  Going to Art School would be my direct route to this nirvana.  Simple.

Of course the reality was always going to be different.  The Foundation Art course I embarked on at that tender age was perhaps not always as exciting as I’d hoped.  There were definitely some fun moments, but ironically many of these were outside the curriculum – drunken afternoons at the end of term and  adolescent pranks with studio props.  A lot of time was spent on  more prosaic practices such as the rules of perspective, drawing from life and understanding the colour spectrum - and I didn’t get to design any record covers at all.


With the benefit of hindsight I might have tackled that first year differently. Might have paid more attention to the technicalities and less on pondering on what I was going to wear each day.  Perhaps I'd have taken more interest in the Art History lesson which we were obliged to attend once a week.

Sadly, I truly didn’t appreciate the relevance of absorbing a subject so vast and inspiring.  My world was small and self-obsessed.  I’m ashamed to say it but the two hours a week watching a film about the Pre-Raphaelites, Surrealism or the Impressionists  became an excuse to do anything but learn or open up to such greatness.  I daydreamed in the soporific half light, and contemplated the latest episode of ‘Monkey’ or the thought of having a Findus crispy pancake for tea.  The most artistic thing I did during Art History was the occasional doodle in my notebook, in which only a few cursory educational notes had been jotted down : Florence, 1400s, Botticelli.”   120 sleepy minutes would pass in which I barely even noticed his Venus.  And then it was home time (no doubt to watch ‘Monkey’ and have that Findus crispy pancake for tea.)

Unsurprisingly I was totally - and I mean totally -  unprepared when it came to sitting the Art History ‘O’ Level exam at the end of the year.  What was worse was that, somehow, I got the day of the exam wrong.  I thought it was on the Thursday, but it was on the Wednesday.  I’d presumed I had the day off and the house to myself - bliss.  So I stayed in bed for an extra hour.....only to be suddenly and unhappily awoken by a phone call. 

It was my Art History teacher. "Where are you??? The exam starts in half an hour...!” 

“Oh no…”   It felt like a large stone had been dropped inside my stomach as her words assembled themselves in my brain, “Oh erm...  I’ve got to get the bus… I don’t know when the next one is… erm…” The rock in my gut felt even heavier.

“No, you’'ll be too late!  I'll come and pick you up in my car.  I'm leaving now."

Oh shit.  College was eight miles from my home.  She’d be here in less than half an hour. I had to scramble to get ready.  No time to even finish a bowl of Ricicles before Miss Art History pulled up outside in her Morris Minor Traveller. 

Anyway I got into the exam late – flustered, embarrassed and, worst of all, with floppy hair, which I'd had no time to spike up - and I was all over the place.  I hadn't a clue.  I tried to recall as much as I could - something about Florence in the 1400s and Botticelli? - but I knew it was doomed.  It was awful; I barely managed a few sentences.  And when the exam was over all I wanted to do was go straight home but - in the hurry to get out that morning and with not needing to catch the bus -  I only had 12 pence on me. 12 pence was enough to buy a whole packet of Polos, but only a fraction of the eight-mile bus fare. So I decided to walk.

It took me nearly three hours.   I got offers of lifts from a very persistent biker (who kept turning round, coming back and asking again) and a rather pushy lorry driver who scowled nastily at me for rejecting the invitation of a ride in his cab.  I think he had a different kind of ride in mind.  I refused both, and continued on blistered feet – eventually getting home to be greeted by my mum, who was now back from work, with a cheery, “Good day at college?”

I do not have an 'O' Level in Art History.


  1. I also got the wrong date for an exam but no-one phoned me.Turned up a couple of days late.Had to do the re-sit!

    1. Glad it's not just me (although I never did do a re-sit). Did you pass the exam, though?!