Back to school?

New_Forest_last_day_of_the_summer_holidaysA levels, GCSEs: it’s the annual round of results and debates on whether it was tougher back in the day.

I don’t know about the grades. I don’t feel qualified to judge whether modular systems are fairer than an exam at the end of a course of study.

I did old school O and A Levels. Tough, yes. But I think she has it tougher because I was able to have a summer off from studying before Sixth Form started.

My 16-year-old scientifically-minded daughter picked up an AS result yesterday: a surprisingly decent grade in History. The surprise was that she hates the subject and hadn’t wanted to study it. It was the only subject she could fit into a timetable designed to meet curriculum requirements with required core subjects.

Her school in Kent takes exams early so she already had all government-imposed qualifications, except one. As she had to retake German until the alphabet ran out of letters at its rear end, the timetable left her with a History AS on top of her additional GCSEs.

Study doesn’t come easily to her and I think she deserved a summer kicking back a bit. The photo shows her on her last real day of rest during three days in the New Forest back on 15 July.

That’s the day she was given summer holiday work tasks for starting A levels in Biology, Chemistry, Geography and Physics. These have kept her occupied every single day since.

She’s read ‘Why does E=MC2? by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw’ and ‘The
Selfish Gene’ by Richard Dawkins and is working on ‘The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison’ by John Emsley: all three books  need a written review.

There’s an assignment on the state of the oceans for each of the science areas and 15 news articles to find and review to cover a list of geographical issues.

Back at school to get results next Thursday. Back at school to discuss results next Friday. Back at school the week after for a further interview about A Level choices. Then back at school for real the Monday after.

She’s working harder this summer than I ever did after a round of exams. What might be a surprise to some is that she’s leaving the Kent grammar, where her friends are having a summer off. She’s not heading for a public school, where you might expect a summer spent cramming for a head start.

This is all for a state school in poor Tower Hamlets, where there’s the highest rate of child poverty in London.

Maybe this might help cut down numbers of the next generation of poor deprived kids here. And I hope she’ll  think it worth it, some day. Not now though: she’s too busy cursing poor Prof Cox.

An Evening with Mr Finnemore

Or, Living Without A Television Set and the Coming of Mr Capaldi

John_Finnemore's_Souvenir_Programme having fun
John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme cast have fun

I don’t have a TV. My daughter and I moved to this flat ten years ago, swapping Barbican  spaciousness for a Stepney garret and it seemed a good time to leave it behind.

We spent a lot of time in our local libraries at Whitechapel and Bethnal Green, getting to know the librarians and borrowing lots of audio books. I’ve read the whole of the Harry Potter books aloud plus countless others over the decade but my voice and tolerance aren’t infinite and she enjoyed choosing and listening to them.

BBC Radio 4 Extra was Radio 7 back then and we often had that on for stories and plays. I managed to buy a laptop about five years ago and we watched lots of films, then BBC iPlayer.

Ten years down the line, I’ve acquired a husband and lots of boxed sets. It’s finally Game of Thrones time here (that refers to the boxed sets: he’s not my brother and I don’t think his family is a significant House, even in Dartford.) We picked up the first season at The Forbidden Planet last week and got through the first two episodes of Season Two last night.

I can’t imagine ever bothering with a television again. Whilst I thoroughly enjoy swooning over Sherlock and am a lifelong Dr Who fan (more of that in a minute), I still love the radio. Comedy every night from 10pm until midnight, sci-fi, fantasy and horror for the next hour if I can’t sleep (most nights recently), Test Match Special of course …

The three of us don’t agree on everything to watch or hear and nowadays she’s usually attached to various tiny screens and plugged into headphones. But we all adore two radio series: Cabin Pressure and John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme.

We’re lucky enough to be able to get along to the BBC for radio show recordings. These are among the best free events going in London: everyone should know about them as long I can still get tickets, please.  We’ve been to The Infinite Monkey Cage, The Now Show and Bleak Expectations. Meet David Sedaris is the only other point of agreement between the three of us and the only recording she’d attended.

On Monday evening, we braved levels of rain that left two of us wringing out litres from socks and t-shirts in a restaurant lavatory while the third did the teenage eye-roll thing and made horrified noises of embarrassment. Fortified by Big Night Out lobster and chips on offer near Great Portland Street, we arrived for the recording.

There was an element of risk: my husband had managed thus far to avoid finding out Who was Who. Unlike the rest of the nation, rejoicing as smoke went up from the BBC (joke first seen on Twitter: can’t find the original for a link so please tell me if you do) to announce the new Dr, he didn’t want to know. No chance of keeping it a surprise until the regeneration, he knew that, but just for as long as possible.

This had meant no news in any medium, (diving for cover from the Evening Standard on the Underground), walking around with headphones in etc. The first things you see on arriving in the BBC waiting room are a TARDIS, a Dalek and a GINORMOUS TV screen.   By the entrance to the recording studio, there’s a GINORMOUS picture of Matt Smith, captioned The Doctor or Dr Who, I forget which. Two of us were a little sad that this hadn’t been updated just for the eff off scale of telling him the news …

And into the studio. All good Cabin Pressure fans and true will understand daughter’s delight on hearing the voice of Arthur in the flesh, as it were. We started with a warm up: the audience divided into a human tennis game, complete with a standing-up-people net, half of us being the plucky Brit and half being their Swiss opponent and Mr Finnemore conducting us in grunts of ‘UH!’ as the green balloon ball went from side to side.

Mr Finnemore introduced the cast entirely via references to Dr Who (husband holds breath) without a mention of Mr Capaldi (husband exhales.)

There were some spiffing sketches about red trousers and the wearers thereof, a beautiful ballad of a Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name sung by the supremely talented comedian Margaret Cabourn-Smith, a wonderful corporate speak git who crumbles into childish self-pity and a (sorry, I have to say ‘wryly-observed) couple instructing their house-sitter that had us shrieking.

I really enjoyed a Dashiel Hammett/film noir spoof with great Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet impressions. The guide dog in the audience barked with perfect comedy timing just after the recording and before the retakes.  The tallest man in the world with a gigantic afro who usually sits in front of me at the cinema and theatre had fortunately chosen to be somewhere else for the evening. It was pretty much perfect.

The rain had stopped as we headed home for some more Game of Thrones. And then I accidentally gave the game away about Dr Who.