Turn over your papers and begin…

It’s exam season again, so let’s spare a thought for all those going through what we all can still remember. No matter how long ago it was that we sat in those halls scribbling on sheets of paper to determine our futures and enhance our life/job/happiness prospects (or so we were told), we can bring ourselves back in a flash to some exam or another. It may be a willed act of reminiscence, a moment of self-indulgent nostalgia or it may, as it often does with me, come in the form of horrific nightmares in which I am either totally naked, totally ignorant or facing the totally wrong paper. I wake relieved to know that it has all been a dream, but then I realise that come the summer I will yet again be spending more hours than I would choose in the exam hall I was so keen to escape.

When I put the last full stop on my last Finals paper in 1980 I scampered out of the examination schools to get drunk and to look forward to a career in advertising. I had sweated over public exams through the early 70’s, dripping perspiration over my A Level papers in the long hot drought summer of ’76, and now I had slogged through three years at University. It was time to kiss education goodbye.

How I ended up back in the exam hall is a tale too long to relate here, but a career in teaching has brought with it many joys. One of those is invigilation. Another is teaching my son (aka the Boomerang Boy). And these two joys combine in one particular summer exam memory.

For some reason I taught The Boomerang Boy in his A Level year. And for some reason I taught him ‘Hamlet’.

Here’s the end of term report I wrote –

‘It has been a great pleasure, and ironically appropriate, to teach Rory a play at the centre of which is a strained father-son relationship. It would seem that family O’Keeffe has survived things rather better than the Hamlets, though the discussion of possible Oedipal urges has made me a little uneasy some evenings, and I have avoided hiding behind the living room curtains just in case. I have not, though, had to hold back at all, and neither has Rory, so the class has experienced the critical, and sometimes abusive, cut-and-thrust which is a natural feature of life in the O’Keeffe household. Rory has shown impressive textual understanding together with a first-rate textual recall. This has served him well in class discussion, where he has been a leading light, always prepared to question and to consider different readings, and in his essays, which have been of very convincing (but not quite Dan Shittu) A grade standard. I can only assume that, genetically, this ability has its roots in his mother’s side of the family.’

(for those not familiar with Championship football history Dan Shittu was a QPR centre-back now playing for Millwall)

So when I happened to be invigilating when he was sitting the exam for which I had taught him I hovered in the aisles like the ghost of Hamlet’s father muttering under my breath ‘remember me ‘, or at least ‘remember what I told you in those lessons’ and trying to resist the urge to pause at his shoulder and sneak a look at what he was writing.

We both survived and we both, of course, have No Regrets.

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