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Sunday 26 March 2023

Airmyn Clock

This delightful folly is Airmyn Clock. It was erected in 1865 by the tenants of the Airmyn Estates to honour their beneficent landlord, George Percy, the second Earl of Beverley, who had funded  the village school some years earlier.

It greeted me regularly throughout childhood: on the way to Grandma’s on Saturday mornings, visiting friends by bicycle, on cross-country runs from school, learning to drive round its awkward bend, walking to sixth-form parties and under-age drinking in the Percy Arms. I never took much notice of it in those days. What I could not then have imagined is its connection to my wife, despite her being from the South of England.

Airmyn Clock was designed by Henry Francis Lockwood, an architect best-known for his grand buildings around Bradford, such as the City Hall, St. George’s Hall, Salts Mill and the whole of the associated town of Saltaire where a Lockwood Street is named after him. The clock bears a strong resemblance to his larger Italianate designs, Bradford Wool Exchange in particular. He may have been known in the Airmyn area because of his earlier practice in Hull.

Henry had around ten children, which makes for a complicated genealogy. One line, by way of Ireland and Devon, found its way to the Home Counties where my wife was born. She is a direct descendant of Henry Francis Lockwood.

My wife therefore claims strong Yorkshire antecedents. When we moved (back in my case) to Yorkshire, she took to pronouncing the short Northern As like a local. It would not have gone down at all too well to be asking her Bradford service users whether they were managing all right in the “baarthrum”. 

Image from Geograph. Creative Commons Licence. Copyright Neil Theasby.

Thursday 16 March 2023


Working in a university is a privilege. You get to meet and mix with some of the cleverest people, especially if you do research and give talks at conferences. You can find yourself sitting along the dinner table from an academic celebrity. The most impressive person I encountered under such circumstances was Jerome Bruner. To adapt a saying of my mother's, he had more wisdom in his little finger than I have in my whole body.

But those you actually work with can be just as impressive. Professor Alan (A.D.B.) Clarke of Hull University was one of those people who seemed to look deep inside you and know everything about you in just a few seconds. He had helped uncover the academic fraud of Sir Cyril Burt, upon which the British system of selective secondary educacion was based, with children selected for grammar school by intelligence testing at the age of eleven. I sat in Alan Clarke's 'Life-Span Human Development' tutorials for a year, absorbing every word. "Koluchova," he would say (she conducted one of the first scientific studies of children brought up in extreme isolation), "she stayed with us when she visited the U.K.". He seemed personally to know everyone who was anyone in psychology. We were awestruck. It showed me the power of personal anecdote.

Others I worked with more closely. Frank, with whom I shared an office for two years, was one of the cleverest people I have known. He had a degree and Ph.D. from Oxford University, and had seemed destined for a high-flying academic career until he had some kind of breakdown. He switched to university computer centre management, but another breakdown put him in a mental hospital. There, he met his wife, another patient. He was Jewish and she Catholic, and they had eight or nine children by the time I knew him. Long-term medication had left him with a permanent tremor and a staccato node of delivery that gave an air of affable authority. One day, instead of turning up for work in his usual casual attire, he appeared in a suit with his hair slicked down. I heard the students laughing in his lecture next door. "I must apologise for my appearance today," he had told them, "but I had to take my children to the nit doctors." (laughter). "And the reason why my hair is so neatly flattened is that I had to have the treatment as well." (Louder laughter, prolonged).  

Noel, another I worked with, knew everything. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? "The egg he would say," without hesitation, and explain it scientifically. How long is a piece of string? "Forty-two and a half inches" was his answer, "because that is the amount needed to hold up a navvy's trousers". I once saw one of his lectures: "Today's topic is Ethics," he began. "No, that's not a county in the South-East of England, it's a system of behaviour." The students sat blank-faced. I swear some of them wrote the whole thing down word for word, and will reproduce it in an exam answer.

Trevor was another who amused me. We were discussing the art of marking. "I can mark anything at all," he said, and looked around the room. "I could mark that filing cabinet if I had to," he pointed, "it's a B-minus." I knew exactly what he meant and had to agree. B-minus it was.

Just a few of the characters that come to mind. They are all dead now.

Wednesday 1 March 2023

'A' Level English 1977

New Month Old Post: first posted 19th May 2016

Park Lane College tried to put me off. They maintained the one-year course was only for re-sit students and that the two-year course was more suitable, especially as I had not studied English Literature at any level. Somehow I talked my way in. 

It was one of the most difficult courses I have ever done. Selecting and organising all the quotations, literary criticism and conflicting viewpoints into examination-usable form was gruelling, but it was interesting and enjoyable as well, and developed useful skills for later. It was certainly an intense experience because I can still picture the classroom and where we all sat: me at the back.

Most on the course were indeed re-sit students, mainly girls in their late teens, and as late as 1977, in Leeds, there was only one non-white student. The token teenage lad worked at the tax office and told gleeful tales about the persecution of wayward taxpayers. But there were other older first timers. There was an aloof social worker who gazed contemptuously out under her Joanna Lumley ‘Purdey’ fringe and exchanged hardly more than a dozen words with the rest of us all year. There was a bearded chap in his early thirties who said little more, yet managed to give the impression he knew everything already. And luckily, there was a kindred spirit also aiming for university. His grasp of the coursework, huge vocabulary and sweeping command of the English language put mine to shame. It was enormously helpful to be able to discuss things with someone of similar aims and interests.

The syllabus in those days offered enormous, some would say excessive choice. You could get away with covering just two out of three Shakespeare plays, one out of three longer poetic works and four out of sixteen set books. So that’s all we did. It would have been silly to try to cover everything. The course leader, Jonathan Brown, pared things down to what could be achieved in a year. Even within these bounds the exam paper offered a choice of questions.

Do they still let you take the question papers home? They did then, so here they are (click to enlarge images, or get them in PDF form here).


Section A: ShakespeareJulius Caesar, Othello and The Winter’s Tale.  

The rubric was complicated but essentially you had to answer three questions covering at least two of the three plays. In other words you could get away with studying only two. We did Julius Caesar and Othello.

English Literature A Level Paper 1977

First, you had to answer either Question 1 or Question 2, above, which quoted passages from the plays and asked you to address specific issues relating to them. It looks like I did the Julius Caesar part of Question 2.

English Literature A Level Paper 1977
Then, questions 3, 4 and 5 were discussion questions on the three Shakespeare plays. You had to do two, but each offered an either/or choice. I did 3(a) on Julius Caesar and 4(b) on Othello.

From the notes made after the exam on the first page, it seems I estimated I had got no more than a C in this paper.
English Literature A Level Paper 1977Section B: Longer Poetic Works.

There were three set texts: Pope’s Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, Wordsworth’s The Prelude and T. S. Elliot’s East Coker and Little Gidding, with one question on each. As you had to answer just one of the three questions, we only studied Pope’s Epistle.

Again, there was an either/or choice within each of question. It looks like I did 6(a).


Novels, Plays and Poetry: four from sixteen set texts.

English Literature A Level Paper 1977

The syllabus offered sixteen different works, but the examination only required you to answer questions on four, so we covered only four: Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the selected poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the poems of Wilfred Owen, and Arthur Miller’s plays A View from the Bridge and All My Sons. Again, the paper had an either/or choice within each question. I think I answered questions 7(b), 10(a), 12(a) and 14(b).

The other twelve items on the Paper 2 syllabus were parts of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, Metaphysical Poetry, Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Sheridan’s The Rivals and The School for Scandal, Keats Lamia and other poems, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Poetry of the Thirties, Patrick White’s The Tree of Man, and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.


Literary Criticism. Two compulsory questions quoting passages from unnamed works followed by lists of points to be addressed.

English Literature A Level Paper 1977

Paper III was the joker in the pack, impossible to prepare for fully in advance. I really thought I had messed this up.

Question 1: two poems. With the help of the internet I can now identify them as John Stallworthy’s A Poem about Poems About Vietnam, and Seamus Heaney’s The Folk Singers.

Question 2: a passage I recognised in the exam as being from George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier. I remember timidly deciding not to say I knew what it was. I don’t know whether you got extra marks if you did. 

Looking back over forty years, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry left the strongest impression. I can still quote Pied Beauty by heart. A lot of people find his poetry dense and unintelligible, so it was a real privilege to be able to take time to dissect and understand his ‘conglomerate epithets’ and obsession with the different roots of the English language. His lines still come back both in moments of elation and despair.
Wilfred Owen too, remains familiar from his regular outings in television programmes and newspaper articles about the First World War. Years later, attending a conference at the Craiglockart campus of Edinburgh Napier University, I could not help but be aware that this was where Owen and Siegfried Sassoon had been treated for shell shock almost a century earlier. Sitting on the lawn in front of the main building, eating lunch in the sun, I imagined they might once have done exactly the same, discussing poetry during Owen’s brief respite from his doomed youth. Sadly, the topic of our own lunchtime conversation was computing.

Arthur Miller revealed a great deal about how plays are put together. I later felt there were more than just situational similarities between the film Saturday Night Fever and A View from the Bridge, although to be strictly accurate they were different bridges.

I was astonished by Alexander Pope’s verbal dexterity and can still remember chunks of the Epistle.

On the other hand, despite my enthusiasm at the time, I am ashamed to say I read no more Shakespeare. I know he was myriad-minded, but it takes effort, and I became too tied up with other things to try.

The same is true of Persuasion, despite the once-or-twice stand-in teacher at Leeds Park Lane College, Mr. Trowbridge, declaring that whenever he felt disheartened there was no better remedy than to go to bed with Jane Austen. He even got a laugh from us with that one.