9-1 GCSE Exam Task: Write about a time when you did something without thinking it through.

This took 30 minutes to write out, including planning. Read it and then have a go at the task yourself.

Being Looked After

“He is okay but he is in a coma and he has been like that for three weeks now. We did not want to worry you until we knew for sure he would be okay!”

Words like that shock you to your core, to the very essence of your being, especially when the person being talked about is your older brother who you love dearly. So to receive that sentence over the phone back in 1992 was a shocker. I was in the middle of my GCSEs as a mature student and beginning to prepare for revision and then exams in June. This was March time, when my mother and father were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, a milestone for most people, let alone my parents. We got the call on the afternoon of their celebrations and I took the call.

Fortunately, for everyone concerned, it was me that took the call, for my brother James lives in the south of France, about 825 miles away from our home. His wife, Suzette, a French citizen he had met and fallen in love with, and then emigrated with, phoned us up my Mum’s house. Once the shock was over, I said that if I could, I would come over.

I actually said, “Right, I am coming over. See you in a few days.”

But after I put the phone down, I sat there and thought how am I going to do this? The solution to my dilemma is a story worth the telling, for it involved numerous people in my journey south. I lived in the southern part of Yorkshire at the time and when our church Minister found out, she asked me how I was going. I said I was hitching. I was unemployed, had no cash, just my allowance and needed help. So out went the telephone calls on my behalf. An hour later I got a call saying “I can get you as far as the tunnel that goes into Italy” [half way through France]. I was amazed so planned to meet two men somewhere nearby.

The following morning, I set off with a holdall and some spare clothes, my passport and a hopeful anticipation. I met two truckers at Rotherham and we set off south for Dover. The trip was pretty uneventful apart from them asking me why but what I did not understand was the fact that between our Minister and the owner of the haulage company, they had agreed to put me on their paperwork as a co-driver, so I did not have to pay for the ferry either. I was amazed really and now, looking back, I still am. We travelled onto the ferry, off the other side and then headed down some familiar countryside for me, who had done the same trip on two wheels a few years before. The time was spent in dozing half sleep or crazed coffee bouts when we stopped, but it was a great time. I cannot remember their names but I shall be ever thankful for those two men who drove me part way down to see my brother.

But the really amazing stuff was just about to begin. At Chamonix, the truck broke down. It was a refrigerated truck too with cow hides on, so it began to stink the town out. When they said it would be a day or so before they got moving, I decided to hitch hike from there to Avignon, a distance of about 400 miles I guess, but am not sure. So I wrote a place name further south on a piece of cardboard and SVP below it and hoped for the best. Within five minutes, I was on my way again, waving goodbye to the truckers from the back seat of an Alpha Sud.

Funny that it was going south, with a name like Sud.

At a spot near the Autoroute du Soleil, something very odd happened. The car I was in had to brake hard and hit the car in front. As they were all arguing, I thought this is my cue to get on with the journey and so I carried on my journey, again being picked up within minutes by a driver in an enormous, bulbous oil tanker.

But what happened next was even more amazing. The driver of the tanker asked me in broken English why I was heading south in March so in my broken French, I used world like “hopital” and “frere” and “Marseilles” to let him know. As soon as I had said that, he was onto the CB radio in the cab, jabbering away rapidly in French [could have been any language for me in my state] and then it happened. It rained! But it did not just pitter patter down. No, it belted it down! I was being stopped at every turn by fate, or someone more cruel than that, from getting to my brother. After about an hour of this rain, the tanker driver pulled over, stopped, pointed to the tanker at the side of him and told me that this was my next ride.

I couldn’t believe it!

Such kindness. Such graciousness. He had been organising my next lift all this time. It was simply unbelievable. That tanker took me as far as Montelimar, about 50kms from my brother’s house but by now it was getting late, so he stopped at a truck stop and left me to my devices. He pointed to the bar and the motel and gave me that look as if to say “it will be worth it mate.” So I got a room and bedded down for the night. I still had not gone through twenty four hours yet but was dog tired.

The following morning, I made sure I had some breakfast at the motel and then headed out to try the last 50kms. Within minutes I was visited by two men wearing guns at their side. If I had not seen the Gendarme uniform, I would have given birth there and then! They asked me where I was going, asked to see my passport and when I said where and why I was going to Avignon, [and then to Marseilles] they wished me well and left. Within ninety seconds, a white car pulled up and said he was going to Avignon on business, do I want a lift. Only 4k after that to his village and I am there. The man drove his car into the middle of the city, got out and did his banking and then set off. By now I am thinking the worst. This is Freddy Kruger in a beret! I had no idea where he was heading next. He had asked to see the address of my brother, to see if he was going anywhere near to my brother’s house but had shaken his head, not knowing the village.

I was clueless!

But then the most insane thing of all happened. As he was driving along country roads, my sense of déjà vu set in and I guessed what was happening. I had been on these roads before. He drove round one corner, over a roundabout and into Cabannes where my brother lives. Then I knew, he was taking me to the door. He did not have to do this but he chose to because of my predicament, just like the trucker, the two truckers before that and my church Minister. How did all of this happen? Was it a miracle in modern form? Or was it just a bunch of folk seeing an issue and getting in there to help and assist; modern good Samaritans as it were, or was some of it angelic?

I have no idea to this day and got there faster than I can drive there in a car [maybe not on a bike] which is nothing short of amazing really. Hitching should have taken me three days. I did it in about thirty hours; total. To this day, I stand amazed by it and by the fact that when I did see my brother, with broken legs, arms, head, wrist and both legs in a broche, I think to myself that someone was looking after me that day.

And yes, before you ask, this is a one hundred percent, bona fide, true story with just a hint of hyperbole. Your task is to find it.

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An Idea from A Level English

Whilst with a student today, I reverted to something found in A Level English to help him to understand how to write for the new section B.

The task was to write about something that you, or someone you know, had to do and try really hard to do well. It could be real or made up and was based on a picture of a school football team Coach giving his lads a team talk at half time or before the game. It was all about trying hard and doing well.

So, I showed him a revised version of the A Level aide we use as teachers. It goes very loosely, like this:

SET SCENE
CHIEF PROTAGONIST
WIDER CHARACTERS
PROBLEM
RESOLUTION
OUTCOME

In essence, it allows the reader a little bit of planning space, or the chance to plan and to be ultra creative at the same time. Other teachers will tell you planning is vital but to learn this list and to be able to memorise them will help you when it comes to writing in that section B of the exam.

Think about it. You have been asked to write about something that you have done that has been hard to do or achieve. What do you do? Panic? Possibly, but panic not my student body, for if you follow this plan, all will be well. See below for what I mean…

Set Scene = Under 21s Rugby team. Country = Scotland. Upcoming game to win championship games between 6 nations.

Chief Protagonist = Self, or a third person narrative character. Brought up in foster care. Problems with aggression and authority. Combustive relationship with Coach. But very good running forward; just overtly aggressive and always being sin binned or sent off. Give him a name which represents this. Oscar Strange?

Wider characters = his team, who are his only real family. They have been the defining force in his life. They are his levellers in life, his real mates, but he is injured two weeks before the final game.

Problem = injury two weeks before the last major game of the season and he wants to play. He has to play, in his head.

Resolution = He comes back from injury, to be on the bench for the final game, itching to get on to make a difference. His coach does not think he is needed but then there is a turning point in the game. He goes onto the pitch with minutes to go and scores the winning try.

Outcome = he wins and becomes so famous for this one event in his life. It is a Jonny Wilkinson moment for him. It does not matter that he does not do anything else worth the while in his career, so long as he is known solely for this.

With these thoughts in mind and only a few words written at the side of each heading, you would very easily be able to freely write a story of a time when you [as the rugby player] were able to do something that was hard.

So, now have a go yourself. The task is simple: Write about a time when you have had to something that has been very hard to do, using the plan as above. If you are a teacher reading this, try it with your students.

Ciao.