Both of Us (Bound to Lose) - Manassas
Half term has come around again, and the young teens are ruining the first intimations of spring by staying locked indoors swatting up for their GCSE's and 'A' Levels. Many educationalists nowadays question the practice whereby candidates for jobs should be selected on their record of passing exams in subjects that they will never use in their work. Sir Ken Robinson suggested that if you are successful all the way through the exam journey from start to finish, there is only one thing you could be: a university lecturer (and not necessarily a very good one at that, considering that any such person would probably have very little genuine life experience to pass on to their students). Another educationalist has observed that in most recruitment systems, a perspective employer would interview someone with three 'A' Levels as opposed to someone who was the national junior backgammon champion, whereas the latter would probably have the kind of creative imagination that would be better for their business.
When I was 17, Ricky and I met up to celebrate having finished our 'A' Levels, when our relief that it was all over was interrupted by someone rushing in to say we were wanted in such-and-such a classroom to take another exam. The 'A' Level was "General Studies" and though someone may have mentioned we were entered for it months before, we had completely either forgotten or not registered the fact and therefore had not prepared for it any way. To my amazement, it seemed only to require common sense and a bit of general knowledge about the world. I got an 'A', mainly on the strength of my answer to a question about "the romantic appeal of the anti-hero". Ricky thought he had done well too, until he realised that the fantastic essay he'd written on "conversation" should have been on "conservation" and he failed.
We wound up in his room once more, our exams really completed this time and our lives stretching out before us like the sea on a beach. We would either sink or swim. Ricky put this record on the turntable and we listened to it solemnly, glumly even, as co-writers Chris Hillman as Steve Stills alternated on the whimsical vocals, until we were energised by the final sequence:
"Now can you hear me?
Now can you see me?
How do you like the fool when he's down?
Is that really how you see me?
Just a statue making sound?"
when suddenly the band breaks free of the melody as Joe Lala, Dallas Taylor and co erupt into a triumphant bongo-soaked Latino dance finale with some scorching piano from Paul Harris and a terrific guitar break from Stills as if to say, so what? Let's get on with it, these exams don't matter - it's down to us now, not teachers, not school inspectors or exam boards, not parents, real or surrogate. This is freedom and it's great. We turned up the volume, danced and felt better, healed, ready to face the world.
Ricky became a boat builder in New Zealand and, although he lives by the sea, has spent his life surfing all over the world, in Asia, Africa and South America. Me? I've a beautiful wife, five great children, a beautiful granddaughter and also live by the sea and swim in it all year round.
To quote Robert Frost:
"....Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."