Monday, 9 July 2012

The problem with an excellent education

Many moons ago I had the privilege of studying O-level (that's to date me!) English Literature. I'm not sure the exam board were thinking totally straight when they chose the volumes to be read. I think their thinking went like this:

We need 5 books.

Poetry. Let's go classical and choose some narrative verse. Ah, here's a book [with extremely small print] that will do, choosing eight [lengthy] poems from it.

A classic novel. I know, we could choose Dickens or Austen, but lets go for something from the Brontë sisters [after all, we were in Yorkshire!] Jane Eyre? Wuthering Heights? Oh, nothing so classic or well known as that - let's set The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Ann Brontë .

Shakespeare. Of course we have to do one of his plays... but let's not choose anything obvious, such as Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, The Tempest... oh no! Let's do a history play. Henry IV. Part I.

And the final two? Perhaps something more contemporary? Something that'll please a bunch of teenage boys? [I'm not sure it did, btw!] Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household: that's World War II based adventure.

And the final choice? Thomas Telford by LTC Rolt.

You may have spotted my cynicism slipping through my description of their choice. I may be the only person who got truly excited that Henry IV Part I was to be screened last Saturday night, only for the Wimbledon Men's Doubles to overtake it! But this last book really took the biscuit. It was the ultimate insult. For a teenager (particularly a girl?) this was the most boring book in the entire universe. It chronicled TT's life and engineering prowess: the Great Western train line, Ironbridge, the canals... in all their detail, with dimensions and structural information, and a splash of historical setting.

Five books that I have carried around with me ever since studying them, clogging up more removal vans than I can count.

Yet now, as I come to write about our canal holiday and the wonderful design of the Shropshire Union Canal, I'd like to have a flick through and learn a little more about the man who built it and the men who laboured at it. The canal largely avoided the need for locks by the creation of numerous embankments and cuttings, changing the landscape forever. Nowadays, covered with mature trees, you wouldn't know it had been anything different.

"Ah!" I think, "I have a book about that!"

Can't find it. Grrrrrr.

Photo credit:  Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston in Henry IV: Part 1 Photo: BBC

1 comment:

Tim Atkinson said...

Ah, nothing learned is ever wasted... as someone I knew once said.

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