Tuesday, January 12, 2010


"You are slow, Miss Blass," said Mr Storey, to me.

He was the teacher charged with the job of getting me through the dreaded Eleven Plus exam. This exam determined your fate for EVER, supposedly. If you passed it you went to grammar school and were generally deemed to be Clever and to have a bright future ahead of you. If you failed it, however, you went to a Secondary Modern school and didn't generally attempt any of the exams which might get you into university.

So your future was decided at the age of eleven. Or - in my case, since I was a July birthday and very young in the year group - ten.

There was a general feeling in my primary school that Daphne ought to pass the eleven plus - - certainly would in English - - probably would in the so-called "Intelligence" test (stop laughing now, people) - - was very likely to in Mechanical Arithmetic (otherwise known as Sums What You Wrote Down). But in mental arithmetic, Daphne was slow. Slooooooooooooow.

This was partly because I liked to take my time, work things out, write things down - - and partly because I'd go off into Daydream World and distract myself on a beach somewhere.

But the venerable Mr Storey wasn't going to permit it. Nobody in his class ever failed the Eleven Plus because he'd find out their weakness and hammer it until it was sorted.

So he made me do hundreds and thousands and millions and squillions of Mental Arithmetic until I could do them in my sleep. In fact I can still do them now. Twelve buns at tuppence ha'penny? Half a crown. (The Dozens Rule. Twelve pence in a shilling. So twelve of them at two and a half pence makes two and a half shillings - - or half a crown, as it was then known. Anyone with me? - - no, I thought not.)

What's forty pence in shillings? Three and fourpence. How many yards in a chain? Twenty two. How many pounds in a hundredweight? A hundred and twelve.

So yes, eventually I got all this information stored in my head and was able to produce it instantly, at will, and add it and divide it and multiply it too. It was very useful at the time - - because I passed the eleven-plus.

I have to say that it hasn't been very useful at any time since, not in ANY WAY AT ALL. Something to do with decimalisation.

But I continued, in my school life, to be a Tortoise rather than a Hare. Always the last to be changed after games. Always the last to finish any piece of sewing. I once took six weeks to put a zip in a dress. It was a good zip, mind. Probably still in a drawer somewhere, perfectly capable of still being zipped. Nestling next to my hand-sewn buttonholes, which took me most of the year to do.

I still notice my slowness even now. I did a typing test the other day - just over fifty words a minute. Now non-typists will think that's fast - - - but I touch-type, for goodness' sake and should be faster. I type all day, every day. Just not very fast.

And, of course, I could never run fast. Or even walk fast. I am slow at just about everything - - though, in general, accurate. I am a slooooow pedantic checker of things. If you want something done slowly and carefully, ask me. But if it needs to be done fast, please ask someone else.

What I do have, though, is a kind of dogged persistence in most things and quite a bit of physical stamina.

So, when I'm swimming, quite a few people get in the pool some time after me, zoom up and down the pool at top speed doing front crawl and then get out again whilst I'm still ploughing up and down doing breast stroke.

But I like my slowish pace. It allows me to think and ponder and daydream and zone out completely if I want to. My stroke's pretty good so I don't have that excuse - - it's just that I'm not very fast.

And I don't care. Well - - I don't care - - or thought I didn't - - BUT - - When I first started doing the mile a few weeks ago, it took me an hour and eight minutes. Now that I've got a bit more used to it I seem to have speeded up. Yesterday it took me an hour and two minutes and I wasn't conscious of trying to go faster.

So, yes, I'm a tortoise. Always slow, I'll get there in the end, I don't care about the speed. Except I'd really like to be able to swim a mile in under an hour. Even tortoises have their targets. I'll let you know how I get on.


Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

Daphne, I'm sure you will break the one hour mile. "All you have to do is believe...and go for it!" - I took that advice from an American motivational manual.

10:45 pm  
Blogger Jennyta said...

You go for it, gal! 11 plus! - Brings back horrible memories. I passed it but I remember during the Intelligence test I had a runny nose and no hanky - which was a major distraction and I didn't dare put my hand up to ask for one. :)

10:09 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11 plus: I remember we went to another school to take the tests. When the headteacher took the register, everyone who was at that school responded in turn, 'Yes, sir'. I had never called anyone 'sir' before and found it quite bizarre... so much so that I still clearly remember the feeling over 40 years on.

Enjoy your swimming.


11:05 pm  

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