The wheel has turned full circle. Well, at least it is turning toward the suggestion that a degree might no longer be necessary as an entry into the profession. And what help, one might ask, is a degree in macrame anyway? Thank goodness that back in the bad old days a degree was not necessary to enter into articles. Nor, for that matter, was an A-level. It was with just five O-levels, three at one time, that I managed to get in.
My major problem was a complete inability to do mathematics. At my first stab at O-levels, then probably the equivalent of a first degree today, I obtained 8%. Worse, I came from a mathematical family. My uncle was an accountant and could work out the winnings on a seven-horse accumulator in his head. That is if his selections won, which they rarely did. My father determined I would stay at school until I passed in mathematics.
Now he arranged for additional tuition by a master; a most engaging, obese fellow. Well before his time, in an early display of motivational speaking during the lessons, he liked to recite Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg while playing the march of the same name by Turk Murphy and his jazz band. Rarely could he reach the end without crying.
In the holidays my uncle was pressed into service. He soon gave up the unequal struggle and we played bridge with his nine- and seven-year-old sons. He reported I was improving, which in coded terms meant that when he led a diamond I returned one. That year my mark was 16% and my father realised that, even if I continued at this phenomenal rate of improvement, it would be many years before I caught sight of the winning post. A family conference was arranged.
All sorts of professions were ruled out: accountancy, of course. The army? How could I work out how many miles the men had to march and at what speed to hit camp by nightfall? The navy? I might surface the submarine at Valencia instead of Valparaiso.
Architect, doctor, even chemist all required some mathematical ability. It left the church – I suppose I could have been relied on to count the Easter offering – and the law, which did not require mathematics as an entry point. I showed no great enthusiasm for either and my uncle spun a coin.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor