John Smith writes:
My father Eric Smith was an English master at High Pavement Grammar
School in Nottingham. For many years he also served as an examiner
with the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, which
is responsible for the exams sat by tens of thousands of 16- and
18-year-olds, not just in the U.K. but worldwide. His particular area
was the English essay, which in the 1960s formed one half of the
English Language exam for 16-year-olds (part of the then O/Level
Examination, referred to in some parts of the world as School
Certificate). Though he marked both British and Overseas scripts, he
came to focus most on the latter, and his expertise took him out to
West Africa as Chief Examiner on several occasions as part of the
process of establishing proper examining procedures and standards
After his death in 1987 a small grey-green notebook he had kept came
into my possession. In it he had been in the habit of noting down
“howlers” or amusing turns of phrase from scripts he marked. Many of
these come from Overseas candidates, which often adds an extra
dimension to them. Apart from a few pencil marks by particular
entries, which I think indicated his personal favourites, the
following is an exact transcription of that notebook. (The final
section headed “General” starts from the end of the book.)
From the O/L Eng. Lang. 1
E. W. N. Smith
Caribbean O/L 1964
- The great composers like Bach, Handel and Mantovani.
- (A sign on a board) “Vacant man wanted.”
- Shirley is a pink-coloured skin girl, a strong-going church
member, & my closet friend.
- My girl friend & I are very thrusting with each other.
- Pandemonium not only reigned, it poured.
- We spent the day rumping on the sands.
- Big flies were hoovering all round the room.
- He had a special cabaret built in his room to house all his 200
- They were God's phropets & epistles.
- “The primary aim of education should be to equip a man to earn
his own living. This is so important that it should be repeated.
The primary aim of education should be to equip a man to earn his
own living. Indeed, it cannot be said too often that the primary
aim of education should be to equip a man to earn his own
- (From a character study of a friend): He was noble, kind,
sympathetic, calm, thoughtful, modest, spiritual, honest, brave,
loving, straightforward, energetic, sensible, humorous, lively,
dexterous, handsome, dignified, punctual, determined, reliable.
Caribbean O/L 1965
- (On “A ceremony you have witnessed.”) When the wedding was over
the bridegroom clasped his loved one tight in his arms, while the
little organ began to swell & fill the room.
- The tweety birds relax on twigs to chirp.
West Africa SC 1965
- All walks and no play makes Jack a doll boy.
- I was unexpectedly delivered of a Vono bed I had won in a riffle.
- The government should try to be lending out eggs from agricultural
- Some of the patients were plastered, & some were hanging from the
- Pails & bowels were flung all over the plaice.
- Lateron the doctor gave him piles to relief him his pain.
- Swollen dead bodies were taken to the doctor for
- Both his legs were cut off, & both his hands, & most of his
brains were hanging through the side of his head; & he was lying
on his bed — crying.
- In table-tennising a white ball, inform of an egg, is kicked
between the two players.
- Table-tennising is controlled by an Empirer. The two parsons toss
the tennis ball to each other, & stroke it when they are chanced.
- Two coloured & carved scale planks with red, green or blue rubber
is used; they are flat, and are in the shape of a gourd when
looked at upside down.
- All dances have no use of force, no sweat every steps in the dance
- The bell knolled a knell, and all partakers came to a stand still.
- It was time for us to dismiss, as we have resumed soon.
- Shouts of goats, sheep, cows were heard.
- A health mind is that which has an exercise body.
- She had vital stastics — I did like them.
- A footballing team has eleven players on each of the two sides;
there is gall-kipper, 2 backmen, 3 half back-men, a left out & a
left in, a centre forward-man, a right in & right out. These five
centre forwardmen pass the balls to themselves.
- Pidgin English, West Africa: Aeroplanes = dem breeze lorries for
- A Nigerian examiner's comment: “A good essay, full of minor gross
From the Award, 1966
From “The Only Survivor”
- She lay there semi-naked, semi-conscious, and semi-hopeful.
- She took me indoors & called her husband; he was very practical
and gave me a nightdress & some hot soup, & told me to lie down
in his bed.
- He closed his eyes in a gesture of despair; he contorted his
face, praying for strength, & then lifted his leg, aiming towards
- These peace-loving animals start their life as small, furry
balls, & they grow up and with any luck will find a mate, & have
small, furry balls themselves.
- I think that men & boys prefer science fiction to women & girls,
as they have strong desires to explore & delve into the unknown.
- My aunt has been unduly disturbed of late, having two small
children through the utter carelessness of the local dustman.
- Death is one thing that does not affect people till several days
- The dream in every newly-wed couple's head is to marry.
- The octopus wrapped his testicles round the diver & strangled him.
- Sharks were infesting the area, & one of them was a non-swimmer.
- Walking along the country lane, with my feet in the stirrups.
- The airoplain took a deep breath, caughed twice, & hearled itself
along the runway.
- He was a man of about 35 years of age, looked twenty and was
- I was exported for thieving.
- About this time of my life I hope to be about 25 years old, & I
expect my parents to have grown old at the same rate.
- People were carrying on in the quiet way to which they had been
accustomed since time immoral.
- As he walked through the room he heard the sound of heavy
- (Phone-call to the Police): Please come at once: there has been an
attempted sexual orgy, and five people are dead.
- I used to leave my class & walk all over the school interfering
with the children of the higher forms. Sometimes when I was not
in school they came to see me.
- I secretly entered the boat with a feeling of suspiciousness. I
hid myself under the bed of a woman. Doing all this without the
consent of the woman, I managed to overcome my nervousness by
introducing myself to her in the dark, & gained full advantage of
- What a wonderful sensation it is, with the power of 600 cubic
centimetres between my legs.
- I was given a blanket and some coffee, but I could not drink them.
- We were trapped in a blazing car, but luckily enough a river was
- When a girl puts on a mini-skirt she will show her complex.
- Some of these boys dress to look very feminate, but underneath it
they are as masculine as the next man.
- Many of the girls wear highly-coloured dresses, but underneath
they are just ordinary girls.
S.C. Dec 1967
- Her appearance is made more beautiful by her wasp waist which
protrudes outwards on the hips and breast.
- There are 4 kinds of food — tined, jared, caned & raped.
- Many protesters have tried Gandhi's method of non-active activity.
- I glanced at the grandfather clock in my waistcoat pocket.
- “His heart rose into his chest but plunged down when he saw the
boys motioning to the girls to go into the ladies. What could it
- They lent him money so that he could do drinking & thus relieve
- I was nervous, but at last I gathered up my guts & spoke to him.
- Upstairs, on the front of the house, is the bathroom. This
comprises of one bath, sink unit & toilet with enough room to
tuck one's toes in.
- Clowns tie their trousers with string which, when it is pulled,
shows a hair-raising scene.
- I took out a book & settled down to read, but soon put it down
because I couldn't read.
[The following unnumbered paragraph is in a different
handwriting which I do not recognise, and I do not know why it is
included — J.D.S.]
I personally think that in this day of hustle & bustle, a person
needs to set time aside to partake in some form of recreation.
Bearing this in mind, I strongly agree with the powers that be
that sport is a must as part of our routine.
- A wife should be understanding & loving & bare with her husband.
- Television gives me something to do without my having to do
- After several years his business began to flush.
- When the amplifiers are turned up full-blast, everybody in the
village almost evacuates.
- People were running all over the place, the boys in shorts & the
girls in hysterics.
- She draped her posterior over a grubby stool.
- Her hair is always hanging about her moon-shaped face with
- She worked herself up into an inarticulate comma.
- I slumped over the whores in a state of physical exhaustion.
(Rowing across the bay).
- My nose was stagnant, & my ears weren't in the best of health.
- If he is not checked at the right age he will gradually develop
into a vandal, & it will not be long before he is a magistrate.
- It was about dusky when I aroused from my slumble.
- As she went through her wardrobe she found a scorpion in her
drawers. She rose quickly.
- He didn't walk through the door — he crawled in; this was a
precaution he always took.
- The headmaster caned me only on rear occasions.
- I am not prepared to sit down & be made a convenience of.
- Old people look back on the past, young people look back on the
- I summed up my ailments to be double pneumonea & a weak heart. I
hauled myself to my feet & began to walk again to try & keep warm
& to take my mind off my stomach.
- A cigarette hung out of the corner of her eye.
- One of the advantages of living in Austria is that one can hear
the Matterhorn being blown.
- Cromwell's soldiers were great whoresmen. They travelled on
whoresback, ate on whoresback & even slept on whoresback.
- “I can't live without you” she burst out in his arms. Clear drops
— the jewels of her starry eyes — flowed down & soaked his
shirt. He felt them, & they pierced his heart — to leave a deep
- Was I to be abandoned sine die in such ternicious envirolment?
With this intimating thought I doozed off.
- Promiscuous behaviour leaves them with a problem behind.
- My wife has the baby, & you will never see it again; there was no
name or signature written on the bottom.
- At the age of 17 I have finally been accepted by my family.
- Slowly the upper deck became occupied with travellers who wished
to relieve themselves. Three middle-aged ladies with colourful
hats presented themselves.
- I used to use the sea as my convenience.
- Macbeth actually killed the King; but remember, behind every good
man lies a woman.
- One of the wonders of modern science is bringing a dead body back
to life by artificial insemination.
- A script from W. Africa in gibberish — 7 pages, & not one
recognisable word. The boy had been told by a witchdoctor (on
payment of a fee) that his words would be mysteriously translated
for the examiner.
- Pidgin for Aeroplane — dat breeze lorry for up.
- An astronut.
- Examiner's comment (W. Africa) on a script: A good essay, full of
minor gross errors.
- A fly-proof
- The couple wanted their son baptised, & both insisted that his
name should be Gooy. (Pronounced goo-ey). When finally persuaded
to write it by a doubtful priest, they wrote GUY.
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