The examined life

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The examined life, eh? Where does it get you? In lucid intervals, I can still translate Caesar, ablative absolute or identify a Miltonic simile, but that’s about it.

“Train A leaves station Z at 9:27am towards station X at 89 million miles an hour with driver called Tom, who has a moustache and wears a black hat. 

“Train B leaves station X at 9:43pm towards station Z at 97 million miles an hour in the opposite direction with called a driver called Reg, who has shaved and is hatless and looks a bit podgy. 

“What exact time would the two trains meet, cross, pass or crash? Or not?”

Or something like that. 

My goodness, it was rigorous. By such means did the gods condemn us tots to our fates. I gazed and guessed and cursed and wondered about the brave engine drivers. Was the moustache relevant? Or the obesity? Or the amount of steam? 

Who knew eh? Not me. I was quite clueless. 

I passed. I still don’t know how. It’s all I’ve ever seemed to do. Pass exams. So I went to the grammar school and into the “Express” class, where clever clots rote learned a trillion facts and passed loads of exams like O, A and S levels and Oxbridge Entrance – and, then, whoopee do! – degree levels and Finals (I blew up and took to the drugs) but still became a Bachelor of Something. 

Then it was off to get a PGCE, which certified (or sectioned) me as a teacher, so I could teach lots more tots to do even more exams, like CSEs, O levels, CEEs, A, S levels and Oxbridge. Then Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum! In come National Curriculum! 

With new improved exams like GCSE, GCSE “Mature” and AS and A levels and SATS and CATS, which drove us BATS, until all was scrapped and we went back to ye olde rote learning and the Lord OFFHEAD examined me and said I was “satis”, which meant “unsatis”, which rather rendered the old PGCE exam defunct. I threw in the towel and retired.

The examined life, eh? Where does it get you? In lucid intervals, I can still translate Caesar, ablative absolute or identify a Miltonic simile, but that’s about it.

Now you’ve all got another blizzard of new exams. Traditional, terrifically rigorous. With strict levels. Out go silly letters. In come sensible numbers from 1 to 8 – or is it 8 to 1? I could never do the math. 

The fifties are back. God is back. And, who knows, those bleedin’ steam trains? Like we had in that church hall so long ago.


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