A little English monad
I certainly wasn’t born into a world of books. Don’t get me wrong, my parents did everything they could to encourage me to read, but the pull of the saga mega drive, of football and rugby, was simply too strong. At primary school teachers expressed concern that I wasn’t doing much to fulfil my potential, and there could have easily been a scenario very different to the one I now find myself in. I wasn’t a clever kid, nor did I find the work too hard – on reflection, I suppose I just cruised along without knowing the means to challenge myself, so I didn’t.
It was some time during KS3 when I found a book that truly gripped me – Ian Fleming’s Thunderball. I couldn’t put it down; the story drew me into something far deeper than I had the capacity to understand as a boy of thirteen – a world of reading. If this was one monad, in Walter Benjamin’s sense of the word, then the next one occurred on the day I received my AS level results. By this time I had thrown myself into literature like a killer whale into an enclosed seal pen, and oh how I ate. It didn’t dawn on me that this growing passion could run full pelt into a crisis, but it did.
By the end of year 12 I was getting ‘A’ grades every time I put pen to paper; sounds cocky, I know, but that’s just how it went. My teacher was fantastic. She was a fountain of knowledge, enthused about English (language and literature) and inspired me in nearly every lesson I attended. But for some reason on the day I took my AS exam, it all went wrong. Call it nerves, bad luck, call it rum and raisin ice cream if it helps (since I still don’t understand exactly how I managed to do so badly), I let myself down. I knew it on results day, I just didn’t want to believe it: four ‘As’ and a ‘C’. No prizes for guessing what the ‘C’ was in (and it was a low ‘C’)... yes, you’ve got it – English. Enter full blown crisis.
I loved English (and for now I’m not going to unpack the subject as a concept, just run with me) but I couldn’t envisage how I could take it through to A level when it was my weakest grade by a long, long way. With a heavy heart, I decided I would take economics instead. It wasn’t a passion, but I was good at it, and the grades were what I needed if I was to get myself into a top university. But there was a metaphorical elephant in the room I hadn’t accounted for – my English teacher. There was no way she was giving up on me that easily, and I’m glad she didn’t. She put many hours in convincing me that I would nail a re-sit, and that I had too much invested in the subject to throw it away on one bad day. I was still disposed to a comforting, belligerent form of self-pity that pushed her away, but eventually I let reason speak to me and opted to choose English for A level. She put many more hours in, at lunch and after school, with those of us re-sitting the exam. Low and behold I did nail it, so much so, in fact, that I went on to get full marks in every module for my English A2.
For me that event and the surrounding months were life changing. Ever since then the study of English has been fundamental to who I am, what I am interested in, and what I want to do for the rest of my life. It was a teacher who did that. There is no overstatement when I say she changed my life - for the better (I wasn’t really going to become an economist, was I?).