Wimbledon College was not really geared for art, so it was an unusual, if not the first, request for me to sit the GCE ‘O’ Level examination in 1958, and no books were available. Although I don’t remember, a contemporary, Matthew Hutchinson, who would have walked it, must have sat it too.
The examination was largely an assessment of your artwork, but there was one set book, ‘Parish Churches of England’, by John Charles Cox and Charles Bradley Ford. The school failed to supply this essential volume, and my parents could not afford it. Mum ordered it from Wimbledon Library. As the weeks rolled by, we waited with bated breath for its arrival. It was in our hands after school the day before the exam. Using a twenty four hour clock this would have been the sixteenth hour, but it certainly felt like the eleventh.
Having the advantage of reducing the text a little, this small format architectural history of our traditional places of worship was lavishly illustrated with black and white photographs. It had to be read in order to answer exam questions that would face me the next day. There would be possibly four illustrations from the book which I would need to identify and to comment upon.
I skim-read the pages of the book. I stared at what seems like hundreds of pictures. I couldn’t memorise them all. I selected some I thought most likely examples of various periods or styles of architecture.
It was rather late by then. I was pretty tired from the reading, and Mum had completed her normal heavy duty day of caring for the family. Our adrenalin, however, kicked in.
That was the answer. A mnemonic is a device dreamed up to aid memory retention. There are various types of these, one of which is rhymes, an example of which is ‘Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November………’, enabling us to remember how many days there are in each month.
Fixing my eyes in turn on each of the images that I thought most likely to turn up on my desk the next day, I recited an invented nonsense rhyme until it was burned in my brain. Mum then took the book in hand, and, opening the tagged pages at random, asked a question about the photos thereon. By running the relevant rhyme through my head I came up with an answer. At first these were not always correct. A certain amount of repetition, late into the night, was required.
Finally, reasonably satisfied, we repaired to our respective beds. I had chosen well. I recognised each of the illustrations in the exam and answered the questions to the satisfaction of the examiners. Phew!
Two years later I was not allowed to sit the ‘A’ Level, “because it would interfere with my other subjects”.