It all began, as so many things that have a profound effect on one’s life does, at high school. We were given an assignment by our science teacher: Pick any animal and write on the sex-life of that creature.
Needless to say, I wrote on bears. I laboured long and hard on the project. When it was finished it filled so many exercise books that when stacked together were an inch thick. The project had in it a number of those wonderful pull-out maps you get in the National Geographic magazine. Photos from the same magazine, from the Reader’s Digest and hand-drawn illustrations and charts adorned the work. I had articles and bear tales from round the globe all beautifully annotated in as well. I had never been prouder of a project in my life. I positively glowed with pride when I handed it in.
I got a ‘D’. A fail. Not an ‘E’ for ‘We acknowledge you expended energy but you have almost no clue’, not an ‘F’ for ‘Complete fail’ but a ‘Nope, you didn’t pass D’.
My father, bless him, outraged that I was given a ‘D’ when clearly, based on the amount of work, the late nights endured and the sheer beauty of the project I deserved an ‘A+++++’, laurel wreaths and parades complete with brass bands and elephants, put on his shining armour, mounted his white charger and rode off to defend my honour.
According to him the conversation with the science teacher went something like this – bear in mind that my dad has a forceful chin and rather piercing eyes, so even slight annoyance looks like the wrath of a minor deity.
Dad: I’d like you to explain why my daughter failed. Please.
Mr Darwin (I kid you not), possibly quailing at the thunderstorm that had erupted in his lab: Mr Dodge, The assignment was “Write on the sex-life of any animal of your choice.”
Mr Darwin: If you can find me one sentence in this entire project that even suggests the sex-life of bears, I’ll give Elaine an ‘A+’. (No proposal of parades and elephants though.)
Dad: Are you saying she didn’t even mention it?
Mr Darwin: Not once. In fact, it’s so lacking in any discussion of the sex-life of bears that anyone reading this project would be forced to conclude that bears miraculously and spontaneously appear out of nowhere.
Ever after, “READ THE QUESTION!” became the mantra I had to endure for every test and every exam I ever took at school, university and college!
Ya think I’d have learnt my lesson, right?
Well, if I had there would be no point to this story. I recently proclaimed with much enthusiasm to the world at large that I was entering the Jameson First Shot Competition this year…I believe I may have said, “If it killed me”. I wrote two scripts. The first one was such rubbish I don’t even remember what it was about. The second one, I thought, had great merit. It was original, witty and clever. I finished it just in time to meet the deadline. Then the mantra began its slow but inexorable chant in my brain. “Read the question, read the question, read the question!” I dutifully went back to the competition website and read the question. This time I wouldn’t get a ‘D’. This time it would be a well-deserved and resounding ‘F’. Possibly followed by trampling of said elephants.
There was, however, light at the end of the tunnel. They had extended the deadline for one day due to technical difficulties! It meant a late night and some hard graft today. I had to come up with a brand new story immediately. It was lunchtime today before inspiration hit. Four hours to write the script that had the potential to change my life!
The echo of the mantra was still drifting lazily somewhere around the ceiling, so before writing my epic I went back and checked the website one more time.
The competition is closed. No more extension. In fact, the statement about the extension has completely disappeared. Vanished. Erased as if devoured by starving Krackens.
I am left disconsolate. Weeping tears of despair. Well, no but you get the drift. Still, there’s always next year. In the meantime I can practise READING THE &^^#%$%#@*QUESTION!!!!
For now, I, like my father and others before him, exit stage left – pursued by a bear!
Pic credit: Amy Sullivan www.amysullivanillustration.com