Sidelong Glances At The PCU Characters: Colin Bimsley
The old joke about mothers and fathers being unable to help their children with examination paper revisions is true. The page above comes from a current exam paper for the ages 10 – 11. Try to work out what subject it’s for. I failed.
Meanwhile, I think back to taking my 11+. The examination featured what I considered to be a series of totally irrelevant problems.
A train with nine carriages takes 75 seconds to pass through a station at 40 mph. How long is the station platform?
Who could possibly know? How on earth could I be expected to have seen the design of the station and judged the mechanical efficiency of its rolling stock? And what about the people who were waiting to get on the train – would they now all be late for work?
What is a levee?
Something you waited on, surely? Didn’t the Black and White Minstrels sing about this? I moved on to:
Which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?
Well lead, obviously! A bird wouldn’t be able to take off if it weighed the same as a roof. And on I went, wrong answer after wrong answer, yet somehow I passed.
The above exam is on Spatial Awareness, one of a great many subjects which no-one thought to fit into my busy schoolboy schedule of Latin and classical history. We learned nothing remotely useful. We were passing our days in ancient Rome.
This old school poem of Cod Latin did a pretty good job of reinforcing the rhythms of that language for us;
Patres conscripti took a boat, and went to Philippi;
Boatum est upsettum, magno cum grandine venti.
Omnes drownderunt qui swim away non potuerunt.
Trumpeter unus erat, qui coatum scarlet habebat;
Et magnum periwig, tied with the tail of a dead pig.
Roughly translated as;
The conscript fathers (senators) took a boat and went to Philippi. The boat was upset by a great wind. All drowned who could not swim away. There was a trumpeter who had a scarlet coat and a great periwig, tied with the tail of a dead pig.
The metre uses Latin vowel quantities for the Latin parts, and partly follows English stress in the English parts. The classic remains the ‘Down With Skool’ version;
Caesar adsum jam forte
Caesar sic in omnibus
Brutus sic in at.
I love the blunt Northern inflection at the end.
The connection here is to the Spatial Awareness exam. In the Bryant & May novels my character Detective Sergeant Colin Bimsley suffers from Diminished Spatial Awareness, a real-life perceptual problem called Irlen Syndrome which prevents him from judging distances and makes him a liability on rooftops.
Perhaps Colin studied this subject at school – he certainly didn’t pick up any Latin. The question arises; is Latin more or less useful than spatial awareness – the so-called Tetris Exam?