Education: Passed / Failed: Bel Mooney

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The Independent Online
Bel Mooney, 51, is a writer, journalist and broadcaster. Her latest novel is 'Intimate Letters', and 'I'm Bored!' is the 10th in the 'Kittly' series for younger children. 'The Stove Haunting', her latest novel for teenagers, is just out in paperback. She lives on an organic farm with her husband, Jonathan Dimbleby.

How do you spell "traditional teaching methods"? My parents applied for a council house transfer to be in the catchment area of Northway, a very good primary school they'd read about in the Liverpool Echo. My father worked overtime to pay for the more expensive rent for this larger flat. There were 50 in a class; it was very strict, with learning by rote and a spelling test every week. I was very clever, a little bespectacled swot. I won a book token, the poetry prize in a Liverpool public libraries competition.

Go to gaol? I passed the 11-plus to Aigburth Vale Girls High School, known locally as "Eggy Gaol". When I met Paul McCartney, I told him I'd been to "Eggy Gaol" and he knew exactly what it was. I was there for two years and then my dad's job moved south. That was the big shock. I suspect Trowbridge Girls High School was better, a county grammar school half the size. I wrote poetry and edited the school magazine. I used to wear CND and Movement for Colonial Freedom badges, only be told to take them off and then, in a war of attrition, I would put them on again.

Oxbridge over troubled waters? I got eight O-levels. I failed maths. They wanted me to take it again but I said, "No, I don't need it." You had to have one science to get into university, and I had biology. My A-levels were English, Latin and art. My English teacher was the key person, which often happens with writers. Mr Boulding was a plump, unprepossessing, sweet, deaf old man. I completely adored him and he adored me. My little grammar school had never had anyone at Oxford but Mr Boulding's daughter had gone there, to St Hilda's, and I tried to get there too. I tried and failed - and was heart-broken. I wasn't a good interviewee, and was terribly nervous. Mr Boulding was very upset, and wrote to St Hilda's to protest.

A finger in every Pi? I read English at University College, London. I'm an English teacher manque and I live my subject still; it's still there - the little girl with Mr Boulding. Although I now live on a hillside, I was a big city girl and wanted to live in London; but I was lonely in my first year. At the beginning of my second year, I went to Pi, the student paper - which was edited by Jonathan Dimbleby. We married in February 1968 and lived in a little rented house in Fulham: a marriage made in journalism. People swore I was pregnant, but I wasn't; we didn't have our first child for six years, which would be a long gestation ...

Second year strike? I refused to take my end-of-year exam. I said I disapproved of exams - a very 1968 thing - but the reality is, I hadn't done any work in my second year. Professor Frank Kermode was tearing his hair out. I quickly had to do a lot of work and take a new set of exams at the end of July, which I sat in solitary splendour, feeling rather foolish. I went on to the third year.

Beowolf cub? I had a huge amount of pride, and wanted to get an Upper Second. The only way to tackle Beowulf was to do it; you can't faff about. I loathed linguistics and was very bad at it - although the professor, [Lord] Randolph Quirk, put me up later to be a fellow of UCL. I was extremely pleased to get a first. I thought, "Great!" and then I thought, "Stuff you, St Hilda's."

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