It was only its second year as a comprehensive, it had been the Grammar School. When I went to the school I was quite devastated to discover the range of subjects I could have taken and would have loved to take – years later, Al took Ancient Greek (a group of boys had taken Latin a year early so filled in their time before A Levels with Greek) and I was a bit envious. In fact, I’d given up French and failed Latin O Level (twice!), but pulled myself together in my first attempt at the Upper Sixth (at this stage, having taken English after one year I was only taking an exam in History, though I was going to English lessons to keep Lynn company – you’re following me? Darlings, you’re marvellous. I thought I was losing you for a moment there). I took up both French and Latin again and passed both O Levels with good marks.
Actually, dropping French wasn’t a bad thing – well, not altogether. They didn’t quite know what to do with me – it was a kind school, they were very accommodating – and so suggested I went to the Business lessons: ie I learned to type. It has been so useful over the years. I couldn’t be bothered to learn shorthand, but I can touch-type like a good’un.
So my bright idea was to take French and Latin A Levels the next year. Didn’t see why not – I have to admit, I thought I was rather brighter than I really was, but it’s always been my way to jump straight in and see if I could swim (as long as it isn’t real swimming mind you, I’m afraid of being literally out of my depth, and feel ashamed to have to admit it because I think if you’re afraid that’s all the more reason to do it). And it can be done, but it’s not a very good idea, but I did scrape through with a grade E (having been dumped by my boyfriend a few weeks before the exams probably didn’t help all that much, either). But (there is a point, darlings, I’ve been setting the scene up to now) some girls I made friends with were studying Russian – it really was a tremendous school with a very impressive curriculum – and so I spent my spare time reading Russian, French and other foreign novels. In translation, apart from the French ones, of course. And the one I was most impressed by was Crime and Punishment. Oh, apart from La Peste. Blimey, I was a miserable git, wasn’t I? The story of a murderer and his conscience – though mind you, the victim was horrible, you saw his point – and the detective determined to prove the truth; and the story of a plague-hit town in Algeria. No, actually, I’m going to sit and ponder for a moment here.
Yes it’s true, that was me. It still is, too. I like miserable stuff.