“Write an essay on colour in animals,” they said.

At school I chose to take Geography A Level and due to the intricacies of the timetable, which only one man was known to fully understand, that meant I couldn’t go to the extra Biology S Level classes. It was my favourite subject! How could they possibly have arranged the lessons so that I would have to miss them? I tried to keep up with what they covered in these extra lessons, but the people who went were always so vague and the teachers thought that it wasn’t their job to teach it again when I asked; they had already taught it.

On the first week I asked what subjects they had covered and my friend said “We did colour in animals.” That sounded fascinating, but I’d missed it. When the S Level exams finally arrived I didn’t want to take them. I’d already got an unconditional place at university, why would I want to take more exams than I needed to? I just wanted to take my A levels and finish, not go back for more ‘Special’ Level exams. But the School had paid for me to enter the exam and insisted that I attend. I sloped into school, opened up the exam paper and read “Write an essay on colour in animals.” You can imagine my thoughts. “Typical! They all had special lessons! I missed this topic! I don’t want to be here! If only I’d been there! What didn’t they timetable it properly! They’ve really let me down! I don’t need to pass this exam anyway.” Those were a few of my thoughts. I chose a different question.

I spent three years studying Animal Biology. At the end, it all came down to performance in four exams. I put on my suit, my cap and my gown and went to sit the first of them. I opened the paper and read “Write an essay on colour in animals.” What? Surely not? We hadn’t covered that at any stage during the three years. I chose a different question. “Write an essay on colour in animals.” The phrase still haunts me.

I still wonder what they covered in that one lesson I missed when I was 17. My exam results would have been much better if I’d been able to go and the mystical timetable fairy had managed to programme it for me. Anyway, here’s a wonderfully camouflaged seal which is almost perfectly the colour of the seaweed it is resting on.

Camouflage - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) 2016 David Bailey (not the)

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