Book Of Days, Part 3, Excuse My French…

Good Evening, Bookworms,

Much of this blog entry was actually planned out yesterday morning at work when my stupid-arsed PC decided to play silly buggers with me. Well, not so much the entire PC, but a certain application by the name of Microsoft Access. It kept locking up on me and not letting me do my bloody job! So, as well as several mugs of tea, I started penning my book blog entry and decided to resume the memoirs with my time at Eccles College, doing my hellish A Levels.

Much of the problem, looking back, was down to me picking some weird and wonderful subjects that I’d not done before and I probably should have stuck to what I knew. Having said that, I took French at A Level, which had been one of my best subjects at high school, and I ended up absolutely hating the damn subject by the time the spring of 1991 rolled around and I had to sit those bastard exams! Seriously, A Levels are the worst exams ever. A degree is easier! Any of you who have not yet experienced either A Levels or a degree may find that odd and hard to believe, but trust me on this matter… Degrees are easier than A Levels! They certainly were 20 years ago!

Anyway, I started at Eccles College in the September of 1989 and I shall be concentrating mainly on French as, for my French A Level I would have to study some works of French literature, hence the book element of this blog! As I mentioned in last night’s blog, I am a very fast reader when a book is in English. However, this is definitely NOT the case for other languages, and I had a very frustrating time. I’d also gone from being one of the best at French when I was at high school to decidedly average, or even below average, when I made that jump from GCSE to A Level, a matter which I found very hard to handle. People said the gap was big, but that was an understatement – it felt like the size of the Grand Canyon! I found this rather demoralising and ended up hating the subject I’d once loved.

In last night’s entry I touched upon the fact that the French language has more versions of the past tense than I consider to be truly necessary, and bemoaned the existence of the Past Historic which only actually exists in literature. Yes, slow down my reading progress even further, why don’t you?! Merde alors! To be fair, three out of the four set texts we studied were not too bad. I didn’t mind the novels, La Place and Viou and quite enjoyed Moliere’s comedy, L’Avare. However, a pox upon you, Jean-Paul Sartre! Les Mains Sales was the bane of my life at college! Not only did I have the usual frustration of being slowed down by looking up words, but, with LMS, I also had to get my teenage head around the concept of Existentialism. This sucked. I didn’t get my head around it at the time and the only reason I have understood it since is thanks to Eric Cantona! Now, it might suit King Eric to be an existentialist, but I’m sorry, Monsieur, but it’s not my bag at all. I would rather not exist in their scheme of things than exist for having done something wrong. Simple as that! Existentialism, as my French tutor Ms Boulton tried to explain, was all about committing a grand act. Usually, it meant bumping someone off! (Yes, I know, there’s a lot of politicians in this world whom I wouldn’t mind seeing six foot under, but I’d rather see someone else take responsibility for offing them!)

Anyway, I’d had to get my head around a play in a foreign language, the concept of existentialism and the concept of a crime of passion, another purely French thing! Was my 16 to 18 year old brain coping with all this? No, it bloody wasn’t! Consequently I found Les Mains Sales grim and impossible to relate to, and it came to represent my whole falling out of love with French for a year or so, until November 1992 when my beloved Manchester United signed Eric Cantona from Leeds for a bargain £1.2 million!

Obviously, during my time at college, I had enough trouble with the subjects I was taking, but I did spend some time reading Nineteen Eighty Four purely out of choice. I also found that the college library had a selection of musical scores, so I spent one free period having a look at Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, which surprised Joy, the librarian, as she didn’t know I’d studied music at high school and could follow a score. Actually, talking of music, I was at Eccles College when the whole Madchester thing went big! When I was at high school, the only two Mancunian bands I could think of were The Smiths and New Order. I am still pretty fond of the latter in particular. Anyway, when I got to college, there were a hell of a lot of other bands from round our way who were about to explode onto the scene big time – Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and James to name but four. I got to know a fair bit of James because a lad who made me some mixtapes of his favourite stuff was a huge fan of theirs in particular so a lot of James went onto those tapes! Then, of course, Sit Down became a massive hit in the spring of 1991, sadly not the number 1 it deserved to be, but was still huge at the time I turned 18, and not long after that, Manchester United winning the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in Rotterdam, beating Barcelona 2-1 at the Feyenoord Stadium on 15th May 91. The day after, at college, the only matter being discussed was where was the best place to go to that night to see United parade the trophy!

Of course, there were also some other major news events during my time at college, not least of those was the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and then, the following year, the reunification of Germany. I was taking GCSE German alongside my A Levels at college, so it became extra significant! Closer to home, though, were the riots at HMP Strangeways. Can still picture the footage of the protesting prisoners sat on the roof of the jail!

The less said about the hellish A-Levels the better, but although I’d not done that well, college staff helped me get in through clearing to go to university and I was off to Bolton. Next time on my bookworm memoirs, join me on the 22 bus as I head off to Bolton to do my degree. Plenty of books and also the start of my life as a matchgoing Red! This may or may not be the next blog entry, but it will be coming soon. Also, the Booker Prize announcement is due today, 18th October, so you can expect some mention of that, too! Until the next time, though, take care and Happy Reading!

Books mentioned in this blog entry:

  • La Place – Annie Ernaux
  • Viou – Henri Troyat
  • L’Avare – Molière
  • Les Mains Sales – Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  • Symphony No 6 in F Major (Pastoral) – Ludwig van Beethoven (orchestral score)
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