My lad is one of a small handful of kids chosen from his class to potentially sit Level 6 SATs at the end of year 6 in June – or at the end of junior school, as it was in my day. He and the other kids in the frame have bee told that if they are to be allowed to have a bash at level 6, they will have to up their game a bit. In particular, they have been told that taking their reading material up a notch or two will help enormously in their quest for academic excellence, Wigan-style. “Get him reading some of the Classics, if you can”, was a phrase that was casually lobbed in there.
Now, I consider myself to be someone with a modicum of intelligence but not necessarily well educated in the accepted sense. I am only on nodding terms with those things that are traditionally and collectively known as the “Classics”. To be fair to me though, it’s hardly surprising. I attended a rough comprehensive school in Wigan where you couldn’t study both French and Spanish, for example, because that would mean you’d left out a science subject and they weren’t clever enough to work a out a timetable that allowed you to have a go at all three simultaneously.
So, the mere mention of the Classics by his class teacher brought on an immediate inferiority complex. What on earth did she have in mind? Was he expected to recite the complete works of Shakespeare, just like he can, freakishly, recall Pi to seventy decimal places? Turns out, the answer to that is no. But, something like Narnia or The Hobbit would be fine, she said, inferring that I should be able to pluck those off my bookshelf at home with no problem at all. I think not!
There are a total of fourteen books on my bookshelf that are not written by Danielle Steele, Jamie Oliver or Spike Milligan. Five of them are books about Wigan Athletic written by people I know personally. The other nine are three copies of each of three books I have written myself. I could hardly be described as a connoisseur of the classics, I’m afraid, no matter from which angle you approach it.
Books – Technically, I should call it literature but I’m going to deal with poetry separately. I can play football, but I’m not a very good footballer. I can play golf, but I am even less qualified to be described as golfer. I can read, but I’m not what you’d call a great reader. In fact, my reading only stretches to the sports pages of the Daily Mail at weekends and Private Eye or a crossword book in the bathroom a couple of times a day, if you get my drift. In terms of classics, I recall reading Great Expectations and we covered The Merchant Of Venice at school. Other than that, I’m a bit of a philistine, really.
Music – Ah, classical music. Not something on which we were routinely dragged up in 1970s Wigan. My early exposure to, and knowledge, of classical music was largely confined to what I heard on TV adverts and the Last Night Of The Proms. In recent decades, the popularity of people like Pavarotti and the use of classical arias for World Cup theme tunes brought some classical music to the “uneducated” masses but it was mainly stuff that connoisseur would consider “pop classics” and turn their nose up at it. I sometimes try to confound any classical music snobs I encounter by telling them that my favourite piece is Respighi’s Pines Of Rome (which it is) because few people have ever heard of it. In fact, if you weren’t a fan of Howard Snell and the Desford Colliery Brass Band back in the early 80s (which I was) anyone could be forgiven for not knowing it.
Art – I’ve never really ‘got’ art. Because I can play football to a certain extent, I get how it should be played. It’s the same with golf. When it comes to art, be that drawing, painting or even photography, I am clinically clueless, can’t do it and just don’t get it. I don’t even like to look at it, particularly the con that is modern art. That Tracey Emin woman, for example, is simply stealing a living if you ask me. Going to an art gallery (not that I ever do) is like walking on to the set of a production of The Emperor’s New Clothes. I think Banksy’s quite cool, but only because of his legend. He’s like the Spiderman of the Art world. My favourite branches of the arts are The Far Side, Dilbert and Andy Capp.
Theatre and Film – “Get lost, you must have seen that?” people tell me when I say that I have never seen some classic movie like “Gone With The Wind” or “Apocalypse Now”, to pick two examples at random, but it’s true. Why on earth would I lie about it?. I only saw The Godfather for the first time the other week and you’d think I’d just told people I was sleeping with my cat given the disgusted looks it caused. As for the theatre, I went to a few pantomimes as a kid (no really, I did) but generally speaking, unless it has a comedian like Jeff Green performing stand up in it, you won’t see me in a theatre with the luvvies all that often.
Poetry – If my classic book reading is bit of an embarrassment, my poetry repertoire is even more parlous. I remember we studied four poems at ‘O’ level but I can only remember one of them; Tam O’Shanter by Robbie Burns. The fact that we were being taught English Literature by a failed Canadian basketball player who reportedly only passed his English Literature ‘O’ level at the third attempt himself wasn’t a great encouragement for us. My favourite of the classic poets is Spike Milligan and my favourite genre is the limerick.
See you in the Smithsonian – Griff