Mr Rosenberg would be proud of me.
Mr Rosenberg was my O-level Physics teacher at comprehensive school. I had wanted to give up sciences altogether, because when it came to choosing my O-level subjects I already knew that complex scientific theories and I were not suited to each other, and that I would have no need of them anyway since I planned to live out the rest of my life as an artistic wastrel. But such strong-willed choices weren’t allowed, and I was forced to opt for at least one from the awful selection of Physics, Biology and Chemistry — because, according to my form tutor’s advice, “a science subject will stand you in good stead for the future”. That was rubbish, and I knew it. Physics, however, seemed to be the least practical of the three (no cutting things up or mixing strange liquids in test tubes), and it did at least offer me the greatest potential for staring out of the window, writing terrible teenage poetry, doodling aimlessly and occasionally dozing off in the back row of the classroom. So Physics it was.
Myself and Mr Rosenberg — or Kevin, as he sometimes allowed pupils to call him in a rare informal moment — soon came to an understanding. For some obscure administrative reason related to my timetable and my banding in other subjects, I had been placed in a top group for Physics. I would have been struggling in a lower ability group, but in Band A I was definitely the dunce of the class. So Kevin didn’t bother me with classroom questions about, er, Physicky type things, and I — in the damning faint praise of school report terminology — “tried my best”.
All that was to change, however, following the the ill-fated centrifugal force experiment. During one afternoon lesson in the second year of the course, Mr Rosenberg marched to the back of the classroom, where there was more space, to give a practical demonstration. The equipment involved comprised of a small metal projectile, shaped not unlike a bullet, connected to a long piece of string. Without warning, Mr Rosenberg began spinning the projectile round and round his head, gathering speed, talking excitedly to the class at the same time. How the hell this demonstrated the complexities of centrifugal forces, I had no idea — and I still don’t to this very day. All I do know is that at some point he lost control of his experiment, and the lethal metal object zipped past the side of my head at an alarming velocity, nearly slicing off my right cheek.
Kevin — and this was most definitely a Kevin moment, believe me — was mortified. He rushed over to check that I wasn’t injured. I wasn’t, but I decided to play up the sense of shock. That was my big mistake, because although it got me excused from the rest of the lesson in order to recover from the trauma, Kevin obviously felt such a sense of guilt that our agreement to virtually ignore each other suddenly ceased. At the end of the next class, a few days later, he called me over and asked if I would like to join a ‘special’ (oh, how I hate that word) lunchtime Physics session for people who needed a little extra coaching in the subject. He asked me so politely, with such a tone of concern in his voice, that I felt like replying truthfully and explaining to him that my intended career path — director of an experimental theatre company or existential poet — would be unlikely to require much knowledge of Physics. But then again, I was also only 15 years old with O-levels looming, and I didn’t feel as if “no” was being offered as one of the possible answers to this particularly narrow multiple choice question.
For the next however many months, Tuesday lunchtimes were sheer torture. The class was smaller in size, so there was less chance of letting my attention wander, but I still think that the only thing I learned was how many units of energy (kinetic or otherwise, I don’t remember) it was taking me to stay awake and write notes.
Yet Kevin — and since this was a ‘special’ class, it was always Kevin — seemed pleased with my progress. Both of us were still aware that I remained utterly crap at Physics, but he seemed fairly confident that I was less crap than I was before. And that was presumably why, as the exams loomed, he told me that I should be able to manage a C grade. A pass. Wow. For a scientifically proven numbskull, this would indeed be a huge achievement.
I got a U. Unclassified. Maybe I spelt my name wrong.
The strange thing is that, at the time, I actually rather enjoyed my Physics exam, because the questions all seemed to be about areas that I’d mugged up on whilst revising. Evidently, however, if my understanding of this branch of science had been put into practice, I would have ended up being responsible for knocking the Earth off its axis, and causing fairgrounds to go out of business as their most exhilarating rides all failed to demonstrate the centrifugal forces needed to get the thrill-seeking punters screaming their heads off.
So I became a drama student instead, and the world was saved — even if my career development wasn’t.
So why this sudden misty-eyed recollection of my days studying O-level Physics? Why has the bespectacled figure of Kevin Rosenberg suddenly popped up in a corner of my mind? Well, you can lay the blame squarely with the water that was dripping down through my bathroom ceiling earlier this evening.
I didn’t notice it at first, not until I entered the bathroom and found that it was raining indoors. That’s always a worrying sign, isn’t it? I immediately rushed upstairs to my neighbours’ flat to inform them of this calamity. The man who answered the door seemed remarkably unconcerned, but he did call into the bathroom and suggest that his girlfriend might like to finish her shower. Eventually. If she didn’t mind. He then accompanied me downstairs to take a look at the increasingly sieve-like nature of my bathroom ceiling. By this time, the light drizzle had become steady rain.
“So are you sure it’s coming from our flat?”
Was I sure it was coming from their flat? Was I sure? Hmm. Well, I suppose it was a valid question. After all, the water could be flowing upwards from my flat and then dripping back down into the bathroom. Or maybe there was a small family of mice living in the space between my ceiling and their floorboards, and they’d chosen tonight to have a particularly exuberant swimming pool party?
I stared at my neighbour for a moment. Then I stared back at the water dripping through the ceiling. I could even hear the sound of his girlfriend in the bathroom upstairs, as the shower was turned off and the pipes running down the side of the house gradually emptied of water. It didn’t take a genius to work it out.
And that’s when it happened. The school flashback moment. Mr Rosenberg. Kevin. O-level Physics. Small metal projectile. Exam. U. Unclassified.
“Well, water tends to drip downwards. It’s the elementary laws of physics. It can’t really be coming from anywhere else, can it?” I replied.
I said it far too politely, of course, as I always do. I know that’s one of my worst faults: being too polite, even when I shouldn’t be. For heaven’s sake, I even smiled at him — though I’m telling myself now that it was more of a forced grin.
But he couldn’t argue. Not with science.
“Yeah, physics. That’s true. OK, I’ll call my landlord first thing in the morning.”
So, kids, there’s a lesson for you here. Don’t give up on those dull as dishwater sciences — even if you’d rather be prancing about in drama class or writing soppy poetry. I understand your pain, really I do. But a science subject will stand you in good stead for the future (as someone once said to me), even if it’s just to remind you that water drips downwards. Who’s the unclassified U-grade dunce now?
Oh, Mr Rosenberg would be so proud of me.