I preface this talk, boys, with an explanation about
terminology. “O Levels” were essentially
the same as your GCSEs. They were taken
at the end of the Fifth Form, and we usually took about 11 of them, as you do
The first person after me to find out about my O Level
results (the ancient equivalent to GCSEs) was an acquaintance of mine called
Mark Ramprakash. I was on cricket tour
in Guernsey with five other teams. We
were all staying in sleeping bags on the floor of an old town hall and on the
morning of my exam results, I wandered along the road at the pre-agreed time of
9am to the only phone box in the street to receive a call from my parents to
tell me that, against all odds, I had managed to get a few O Levels. As I came out of the phone box, there was
Mark, waiting to do the same thing. He
asked me how I got on and I told him.
What, he said incredulously, 11?
Yes. CSEs? No O Levels.
He could not believe his ears. I
was almost as incredulous. CSEs were the
exams you took if you could not get a C grade at O Level. Mark had only taken 5 CSEs and no O Levels at
all. As a naïve public school boy, I had
not met someone who had so few academic credits to his name.
It turned out that Mark was captain of his Middlesex side a
year young. He was a sharp thinking
cricketer and an articulate guy. His
week was astonishing. Playing 50 over
games, he scored a hundred on Monday; a hundred on Tuesday; a hundred on
Wednesday. When we saw him at lunch on
Thursday, he was only 40 odd not out and over half the overs had already been
bowled. He scored 200 that day. We played him on the Friday. Cleverly for us, when he came out to bat, his
best mate and biggest rival, a boy called Graham Thorpe, though not a bowler,
brought himself on to bowl immediately.
Mark tried to hit his first ball out of the ground and, to our huge
relief, was caught for nought. Even so,
the point for the week had already been made.
A first-class professional
cricketer by the age of 17, Mark went on to score a hundred first-class
centuries and play 52 Test Matches for England.
He is now the England batting coach, intelligent and articulate, O
Levels or not.
I guess the point in telling you this is that there are
different talents in this world. What I
thought was not very special, he was in awe of.
What he thought was not very special, I was in awe of. I was reminded of this many years later when
I was teaching in Kent. I had, to my
great shame, never played a musical instrument before and, upon seeking his advice,
the Director of Music asked me to take up the flute, which I did. I was absolutely hopeless. So hopeless, in fact, that my ineptitude magnified
the awe in which I hold musicians. The
Director of Music, though, simply said that he could not comprehend how someone
could stand there while someone else hurled a piece of hard leather at their
head at 85mph from 22 yards away. His
idea of difficulty was completely different to mine. And we heard from our own excellent Director
of Music today in Chapel that he used spend time contemplating hymn singing
during rugby matches, so one can only assume his excellence at music is not
matched by similar prowess on the rugby field!
We all have things we are good at and things we are less
good at. It is preferable always to see the best in people if you
can, always to praise their strengths; generosity of spirit is a gift.