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My blog nick-name is SIR HUGH. I'm not from the aristocracy - my middle name is Hugh which relates to the list of 282 hills in Scotland compiled by Sir Hugh Munro in 1891. I climbed my last one (Sgurr Mor) on 28th June 2009


Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Why I didn't go to uni.

At Bradford Grammar School I sat eight O Levels and passed six. That was regarded as total failure. In any case we had been streamed: bright boys having the option of science or modern, and to be groomed for BGS’s only mission in life: to secure Oxbridge places.

The rest were put into X or Y forms, me to RX. I always said the Xs were for the lazy and the Ys for the intellectually challenged. Nobody from X and Y ever went to university a far as I remember. The possibility had never been mentioned to me and I was too immature to think about it for myself. When I went home and reported to my father (an autocratic FRICS chartered valuer and auctioneer) he said, using a word that I think he invented apart from an obscure irrelevant meaning in my dictionary. “what’s that, the skugs form?

I was recently jolted into wondering about my lacklustre education and analysed it subject by subject, particularly during the year leading up to O Levels.

Maths: a lady teacher who had no control whatsoever of the class - mayhem most of the time.

History: the master was also in charge of the school cadets. Almost without exception he vacated the room for the whole lesson to commune with his aspirant soldiers saying to us “read the next chapter.” He was incidentally our form teacher.
Art: a German or perhaps Austrian master who was ok if you showed some promise, but brutal if not. I did well with him in practical art and also History of Art. Unfortunately he was also the woodwork teacher. I spent a whole term making a wooden cuboid six inch box with dovetail joints. When proudly finished I took it to show. He had one look then shouted, with a thick Germanic accent “You make fire-vood’ and then threw it across the room where it landed in pieces.

French: a guy who had a snidey objectionable character with bad breath and mean with punishments, but with an unlikely knack for getting the basics of French Grammar into you - that has stood me in good stead in later years but there was little pleasure at the time.

Geography: a master who terrified us all with aggressive dogmatism and also by sweeping an eight foot map case across our heads. He also walked up and down the aisles between desks dishing out vicious backhanders to the back of pupils' heads - he went on to become a headmaster at another grammar school.

Chemistry: another master who had no control of discipline. This subject was totally incomprehensible to me and because of that I saw it as futile to try, rather reserve myself for subjects where I at least had some grasp.

English Lit. and Eng Language: Two subjects where I excelled being nearly always first or second in the class. I remember one inspirational master, and another who ran the school library and always interestingly reviewed new book arrivals for us during the lesson. There was s good library and it was one of the few areas where I benefited.

Corporal punishment was rife. I was caned twice by the deputy head and thrashings in front of the class with a gym shoe were commonplace. My elder brother who preceded me at the school was thrashed for having big feet.

Another bizarre custom compelled pupils up to Fourth Form to use the splendid twenty five metre swimming pool without wearing swimming costumes. There was one master in particular who always volunteered for pool duty although nothing untoward ever happened to my knowledge, but he was a standing joke amongst us: "Don't turn your back on Mr S."

On one occasion I was referred to the headmaster by the obnoxious, foul breathed French master on an issue that I strongly felt was unjustified. In the course of my meeting with the head in his study I tried to put my case. In response I remember the head saying “Do you think my staff would lie to me?” As a vulnerable fourteen year old I crept off subjugated. Oh how I would like to be back in that exchange now!

Me - “Well that is an interesting question Mr N, I have just been reading an anthology on environmental ethics and it covers the moral aspects of lying - perhaps we could discuss that a bit further - have you any thoughts on this?”

Headmaster (thinks) - Mmm… perhaps we’d better put this lad down for Oxbridge?”


  1. An unusual post in a walking blog !
    As I've said over the years: nowadays, with those results, you would be one of the elite and compelled by moral pressure and the good name of the school to go to University, to read some useful subject like mxxia studies (pace, RR) or quantum mechanics -
    and then you would be the hero of one of those old stand-bys of the T&A sub-editors desk (if they still exist) 'Idle man gains BA'.
    That pool dress code was (and probably still is) standard at most minor - and maybe major - public schools - today - teaches a chap healthy disregard for sissy self-consciousness. Not so sure about co-ed's though - might improve participation in aquatic sports, perhaps.

  2. gimmer - I have not made any rules about content on my blog, it's just that walking is what I do a lot of the time. But in amongst the walking stuff I do often digress and include material that is not directly relevant to walking. I did think seriously about this post, and sad to say what I have written is true. You were in the elite end of the machine where the pupils took their studies more seriously and the more competent masters were assigned.

  3. I like Gimmer's comment: cobbler stick to thy last. It's your own fault: you're a walker first and last, plus all the bits in between. I did futilely try to encourage you to expand your accounts of walks into matters of the mind but you implied you lacked the imaginative powers to do so. I suppose you could say you've proved your point.

    Just for the record I passed through the T&A long before the phrase "media studies" (or even "mxxia studies") was invented. At that newspaper there was only one criterion of fitness for purpose: shorthand speed.

  4. RR - Oh, so am I to be banned from writing on my own blog on none-walking subjects such as Shostakovich, self deprecating DIY stories, granddaughter's nativity play and "all the bits in between?" I am sorry you, along with Father, are so disappointed in me but I shall just bumble on in the "skugs form" and hopefully try and build s bit more on the laurels of self improvement I have intermittently tried for over the years since leaving BGS.

  5. No !
    Keep them up - or on !
    They have proven to be such fertile soil for the fodder for the nourishing of the commentariat !

  6. Gimmer - thanks. I hope I will continue to provide provender whether it be for the commentariat, the proletariat or the aristocracy.