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The Scholarship Exam

The scholarship examination was held in the Central School opposite my home. The day before, Mumford came into our classroom and asked: 'Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?' Hands shot up, offering to give our opinions. He pointed to me and I said confidently: A pound of lead. Mumford shook his head sorrowfully and said to Kay; 'It looks bad for tomorrow doesn't it? I felt crestfallen and gloomy, and sure I had no hopes of passing.

Each of us had a card with a number, which was to be put instead of names on our papers: mine was 1326. We sat at single desks, spaced well apart, with Central Schoolmasters invigilating. I remember hardly anything of the question papers: only that the essay subject I chose was 'My ideal half-holiday', and we had to correct ambiguous sentences one of which was "After partaking of a hearty breakfast, the balloon set of". I did not think I had done well at all.

The first intimation was an official letter to my father from the Essex Education Committee, requesting him to state his income. It must have come by the evening post; I remember him opening it at the tea table. As he realized what it meant, a great smile spread across his lace and he said: 'You've done it!' The next morning Mumford, also highly delighted, told the school that three had passed for the Monoux School this year: Eric Harris, Dennis Sewell and I. We had to go and stand on the platform and he clapped. After that came a list of schools my parents might choose from, and the Monoux School's prospectus.

Eric Harris's mother told mine that they were unsure about letting him go to Monoux. It was not just keeping a boy at school until he was l6 instead of 14, and buying the uniform; there would be extra expenses all the time. He did go, but in later years I met men who had passed scholarship examinations and not gone for the same reason: their families could not afford it. A number of my friends at the Monoux School existed in a continual half-guilty state, conscious that their parents were making big sacrifices for them.

My parents talked to other people too. One of them was Mr Holdsworth, who had a clothing shop in High Street. His sons had both passed the examination a few years before, and he said he decided to let them go because he was doing all right in business at the time (one of them became Judge Holdsworth). There was also somebody who knew a Monoux master, and he had assured them that scholarship boys were treated the same as others. That was beyond me; I did not know what my mother was talking about when she told me

Despite the applause in the Gamuel Road hall, getting a scholarship led to a lot of ill-feeling. It would be easy to suggest that boys were jealous, but I think it was something deeper than that. I had alienated myself from their world. Obviously I had not done it on purpose, but I had accepted it; and they were showing that they knew and did not like it. Some of my classmates were half-hostile, and I found friends picking quarrels; I had fights. One of them was a close and long-standing friend, and we flew at each other on the waste ground in Longfellow Road with a crowd watching us and yelling. My bony fists did unexpected wonders, and his mother came to our house to complain about his split lip and bloodshot eye.