Around 1962, my Dad decided that we needed to talk about my future. I explained that I knew what I wanted to do when I left school.
I wanted to work for British Railways and go through their apprenticeship program to eventually become an engine driver. He told me (with absolute clarity), that nobody spends 5 years at the King’s Grammar School for Boys to become an engine driver! Fortunately, while a heavy disappointment, he was quite receptive to me having a career in the merchant navy which complimented my love of ships quite nicely.
He decided to research it for me and came up with a college in Cardiff which offered a highly focused one year program on nautical navigation, meteorology, shipbuilding and other related subjects. Assuming one passed the final examinations, the 1 year program would count for 2 years off the necessary 5 year requirement before applying to become Master of a ship.
There were a number of issues to resolve however. The oldest they would take me was 18 and they wanted 5 G.C.E. ‘O’ Levels which must include Mathematics and English Language. This meant that I had to get all my ‘O’ levels in the same year otherwise my age would make me ineligible for the college. The cost of the program was also apparently a problem.
Paying for it was resolved with the assistance of the City of Peterborough. I have no idea whether they made a generous contribution in the form of a grant, or a loan, but whatever was arranged solved that problem. I just had to make sure that I got my minimum 5 ‘O’ Levels!
This was a potential problem for me because learning things did not come easy. I would have to conjugate Latin and French verbs many, many times before they would “sink in”! The same went for mathematical equations, various physics Laws, and anything else that needed a verbatim recall. In my last 2 years at school, I was often awake around midnight due to homework requirements and studying for various tests which were all leading up to the GCE ‘O’ Levels.
Whereas I needed to pass Mathematics and English Language, and as Art was going to be a “steal”, I only needed 1 other subject to get my 5. English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Music, History, Latin, French and Divinity were therefore all candidates for potential exclusion. I met with my home form teacher to get his opinion, and ultimate approval to dismiss some subjects thereby removing some of the workload pressures.
All my requests were denied on the basis that I could pass them all if I tried! Even Latin, which was my worst subject (me and two other boys regularly fought for last place in any tests!) was kept on my list of ‘O’ Levels that I had to take. Thinking back to those times, there was something inherently wrong with putting a 16 year old under that kind of pressure!