I have definitely visited (sorry, that sounds a bit Princess Margaret) every county in England: in fact, I think I’d done it by the time I was 21, and Cornwall was the last one, so I really did drift south. At that time, I could have drawn a rough map, too, and sketched in where they all were. This is because ‘geography’ consisted, when I was at school, not of isobars and environmental debates, each of which might be said to be important, but of Places. I suspect I also knew the county towns of each county, as well, and could name the counties in order round the coast (I can still do this except where Wales and Scotland intervene: I’m not sure I ever knew my Fife from my Galloway).
But – distracted as ever by working online, where the crash of the internet surf beckons perpetually – I have just scored only 88% on my knowledge of English counties, so I’ve started to haemhorrage information very badly. (What weird lists we learned: capital cities, flags, troyweight, national anthems, Greek Gods, the thirteen times table.) It’s not very bright of me, since the area I do worst with is the convocation of counties round Milton Keynes, which is where I work. I must have driven through half the ones I got wrong, and in the last fortnight, too. Leicestershire is a particularly hard one to get right. I’ve been to Leicester at least twice.
In fact, he said, forking off from the point, the first time I went to Leicester, it was to a Geology museum, on a minibus trip from my Warwickshire school. The reason I was on a Geology trip was that we had to nominate an interest (it might actually have been classified as a hobby), and, knowing nothing about stones, I signed up. You not only had to show an interest, but do a project. However, the geologist who had his afternoon sleep disrupted by boys who had signed up ‘to do geology’ kept no register, and showed little interest. I suspect I may have stopped going.
But this didn’t mean you were allowed to get out of submitting a project. I drew a large map of the local area (and I am very bad at drawing). I went out and picked up some of the various small stones which filled the drive-way, carefully selecting different sizes and colours. And then I sellotaped them, randomly, on to the said ‘map’, and wrote ‘found here, March 12’ (or whenever) against each of them. I duly handed it in by the specified deadline.
I have to say that this project, brought on by a pan-school threat, took me at least two hours to do. Two hours! I could have read an Edgar Wallace mystery in the wasted time. And do you know what? I never saw it again or heard anything about it. I don’t think that was very professional of the teacher.
Leicester is the county town of Leicestershire. It is the home-town of Joe Orton, Julian Barnes and Joseph Meyrick (‘the Elephant Man’) and the once-great band Family. It, er… No, that’s about as far as I can go.