You’d be forgiven for thinking that life for the lower sixth after AS exams had become, frankly, a bit easy. Not so; to the surprise of many, Top Schools has inexplicably returned, and classroom video projectors are left gathering dust. Add to the mix the ‘Challenge of Management’ conference, a grade 6 music exam, the Ingram’s House Soirée and weather that was perfectly suited to doing very little, and, from nowhere (as it so often does at Shrewsbury), a rush ensues.
Thursday 23rd June
The beginning of the Challenge of Management was deceptively straightforward, as, at a reassuringly Salopian interpretation of 9 o’clock, the first challenge was presented: In our groups (composed of Salopians, girls from the high school, the students from Colegio San Bartalomé, in Argentina, and under the guidance of an external advisor) we were asked to construct a ‘new Blackpool tower’.... from Lego. Height, and economy of brick usage would determine the winner. Some of the most frenetic engineering in history saw the rise of multicoloured skyscrapers across the Alington Hall; impressive, although structural integrity was, on the whole, dubious (The Leaning Tower of Pisa springs to mind) and, at around 1 metre in height, our tower succumbed to gravity. The winner, at 1m 55, suffered from no such failings. The true challenge was, however, to follow, as each group was placed at the helm of a small cookie company in the ‘Biscuit Game’. The simulation required the careful management of distribution, production costs, prices, wages, and loan repayments in order to make money, all of which seemed, at first, very unfamiliar and confusing. Yet soon the business, under a new name, was flourishing: We had set up a slick and witty advertising campaign, negotiated a wage restructuring with the Trade Union (comprising in reality a group of 4th formers who would have made even Arthur Scargill seem a pushover), and won a contract with a French supermarket which had to be negotiated in nothing but Le Français. The day was rounded off with something utterly unexpected: The Bric-a-Brac challenge, for which we were each given a hefty wad of monopoly money with which to buy materials to create some items fit to be purchased by the group of ‘shopkeepers’ in the Alington Hall foyer. Unfortunately, the handbags and beach hats which our workshop produced failed Mr Harding’s stringent quality control procedures, and our profit margins duly suffered. It was, however, an enjoyable day, capped off by an excellent meal in KH, with the guest speaker Mr Peter Kenyon providing an insight into the commercial side of football.
Friday 24th June
The dawn brought fresh challenges for the biscuit company, as we oversaw the production of a range of Christmas products and packaging, and continued to leave our competitors reeling in our commercial wake. Having finished the final month of the six which the simulator ran, the final challenge was presented to us: the design of a completely new entrepreneurial product, which was to be pitched to a panel in the style of Dragons’ Den. After a serious planning session, some cunning espionage against the other groups, and an argument, ‘Elastalace™‘ was born, which, brilliantly, combined the style of a lace-up shoe, with the practicality of a slip on. The judges seemed not to recognise this gap in the market, as Mr Percival noted that it was more fashionable to wear loafers. Other groups were more innovative; we saw the foldable brick designed for charities working in disaster zones, the toaster which incorporated a self buttering device, and a locator chip which could be attached to phones and iPods. The brick was probably a deserving winner. With that disappointment, we attended the final assembly of the conference, and received the results. Our market was without doubt the closest: we had made a greater profit than our nearest rival by £5000 pounds, but by some mathematical flaw they had a better percentage of profit to expenditure. It was a tie, but a great couple of days. Thanks must go to Mr Kealy, the organiser, and the advisors who gave up their time to help.
Following the conference, we played a farewell football match against the Argentinian visitors, and, 25 years after the ‘Hand of God’ incident, retribution came in the form of a 2-0 win for England in spite of a severe lack of fitness, and a few missed chances as a result of elaborate attempts to sneak a goal via an ironic handball; it was a relaxed and enjoyable international debut. Finally, the evening saw a house trip into town to see the comedian Dom Joly, before exhaustion set in!
Saturday 25th June
Saturday saw a return to (relative) normality, as lessons resumed, but the prospect of a short coach weekend beginning (and ending) very soon gave some sense of motivation.
Sunday 26th June
A night away from school always gives you a bit more energy, and I knew on Sunday morning that I’d need it. Having returned early to see my youngest brother at the Ingram’s New Boys’ Tea, which involved a lot of cake, courtesy of Mrs Wright, I made a quick dash down to the music school to prepare for the house soirée. The average Salopian’s interpretation of fashionably late is probably about ten minutes, yet impressively, that of the average Ingramite musician more than doubles that time: a mere half an hour later than planned, the music began. The general consensus was, fortunately, that it was worth the wait, and I was pleased with my own performance, but stunned by Cal Winwood’s drum solo, as he played along with Mr Reid on the guitar.
Monday 27th June
Monday mornings are, without exception, my least favourite time of the week, and this hatred was compounded by unfulfilled work deadlines which loomed. The prospect of another scorching day undoubtedly lightened my mood, and by 9 o’clock I was sprawled on the grass next to the chapel, as our outside English lesson began with the theatrical recitation of some quite inappropriate stanzas of Lord Byron. As the day progressed I began to worry still more about my grade 6 flute exam scheduled for the next morning. I am, in general, relatively calm about exams, but having not mastered any scales I felt at a slight disadvantage. That afternoon was spent entirely in the music school, where eventually all the notes seemed to blur into one. The same was true for the evening, and I think I probably owe an apology to my roommate who was subjected to a torturous rendition of ‘G sharp melodic minor’ for about half an hour, which in his own words, left his ears bleeding. I did, however, feel slightly more confident by 12:30 AM!
Tuesday 28th June
Mr Sheppe’s double Greek lessons are now taking place in an unknown location, and so Tuesday morning proved entertaining, but fortunately did not distract from music. As the exam itself approached, I felt reasonably calm and (incredibly – since previous exams have seen me scrape a pass) dangerously close to confident. This did not last long. Yet, after the exam was over, I felt like the end of term had truly begun: days of lounging about and sunbathing would surely see me through to Speech day. Alas, sadly not.
Wednesday 29th June
There is really no such thing as a quiet week at Shrewsbury! Just as I had fallen into a relaxed state of stupor, appropriate for the final week or so of term, three events came in very quick succession; an Oxbridge French session which proved a real shock to the system, in which we discussed an extract from Proust which did not really seem appropriate for a Wednesday afternoon. This was swiftly followed by the House triathlon: I’ve previously mentioned my lack of fitness during the Argentinian football match, and as expected there was no improvement. I finished the run having moved our team a place up the leader board, but suffering from what felt like some form of mild heart failure! No sooner had I crossed the finish line than I was dragged, not to hospital, but to a Model United Nations meeting. I think my delirium probably showed, and I have certainly delivered better speeches, but this has, undoubtedly, been another brilliant week, and if exhaustion is the price to be paid, then it is definitely (as the ‘Challenge of Management’ showed us) a good deal.