There was an interesting report on the BBC website today regarding whether “intelligent design” should be part of the school corriculum in the UK.
It’s one of those topics to be argued till blue in the face, but the subject matter was not what caught my eye. Campaigning in favor of the move was an ex-Head of Chemistry at Liverpool’s Blue Coat School. I have no idea if the reason he was ‘ex’ had to do with his views on the subject or not; neither do I care, but the mention of Blue Coat School brought back a flood of memories from so many years passed, that it seems almost tempting the Grim Reaper of Fate to dare remember them.
Blue Coat School was where, in July 1959, I took my Grade 1 (primary), and a few months later, Grade 2 (elementary) violin examinations. Both of which, I am happy to report, I passed with merit.
I have the two certificates in front of me now. Old parchment paper, yellowed, ripped across the folds, symbolic of an age that held such promise for a thirteen year old shivering with apprehension as he walked, violin case in hand, the mile or so alongside Liverpool’s famous River Mersey to the hallowed stone portals of Blue Coat School (founded 1708).
Not that the age of the building, or its imposing stonework, overawed me. After all, I lived on the ‘posh’ side of the Mersey away from the dirt and grime that plagued Liverpool in those fog-ridden days, and attended Calday Grange Grammar School for the Sons of Gentlefolk (circa 1636) founded a full sixty years before Blue Coat.
No, it was the grandeur of the occasion that overwhelmed. The letterhead bore a Royal coat of arms and in grandly ceremonial type announced its source to be, “The Associated Board of the Royal School of Music.” I patted my pocket for the umpteeth time to ensure it was still safe, before swallowing hard and entering through the high, imposing archway.
My parents were keen for me to learn a musical instrument, and a violin seemed somehow more portable than a piano or double bass. My teacher was a huge, pear-shaped German man, with an equally pear-shaped head, who went under the name of Gerhart Drechsler. His accomplishment with the violin was without question and, when not teaching, he was full-time Leader of the Chester Symphony Orchestra. My enthusiasm for the instrument welled from an equally intense dislike for mathematics. As those of us taking music missed a maths lesson to do so, it was worth having (I was convinced) an ex-Nazi and probable war criminal as a teacher.
So enthusiastic was my approach that before long Herr Drechsler suggested to my parents that such talent demanded additional private tuition at his home. While my folks were happy to pay the not unsubstantial sums involved, I was less than content with the arrangement. Herr Drechsler was a tough taskmaster and worked his pupils hard; the tuition followed after school, involved a half-hour bus ride there and back, hours of practise in my free time, and above all – I wasn’t benefitting from any fewer maths lessons.
Sadly, Blue Coat School never saw me return for my Grade 3 examination. Life outside music beckoned too strong, particularly that part involving the opposite sex. By my sixteenth birthday the violin had been relegated to a closet, later to be sold to the parents of another fresh-faced pre-pubescent eager to escape mathematics. Meanwhile, I’d saved my pocket money and bought an electric guitar. Well, it was the era of the Beatles, after all.
As for the contentious issue of Darwinism versus intelligent design, I’ve lived sixty years on this planet during which time I’ve certainly evolved, though whether through any “intelligent design”, I doubt. As I look back over the years to that thirteen year old amoeba who first dreamed of stardom on stage at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, then later on the stage of Liverpool’s Cavern Club – and achieved neither – I can’t help feeling glad my life has always been controlled by me, and not some intelligent, divine, source who thought it knew what was best. Otherwise, I may well have become a virtuoso violinist – and, frankly, I’d have hated it.
Filed under: Auld lang syne