examinprogressA sunny June morning in 1982. This callow youth not long out of his native Yorkshire walked out of the church of St John the Evangelist on Grove lane, Kingston-Upon-Thames an hour into my last exam paper for my BSc in Geography at Kingston Poly (I liked the idea of exams in a church, maybe they thought we needed divine intervention…) having made the most perfunctory of stabs at it (the “Desmond” was already well in the bag at that point…).

I was first in the good old Penrhyn Road union bar by some two hours. As the rest of my class trickled in like weary troops returning from the front and we prepared to tuck into a day’s hard drinking to celebrate the end of the torture, I turned to my best mate and said “Never again. I swear now on everything I hold sacred that I will never again sit an exam in my life…”

Twenty years on, my wife and I decided to study Italian at evening classes. One of my sisters lives there, we were married there, we visit every year and had made many Italian friends so we thought it only polite to have a go at the language.

“Why don’t we sit an A level in it so we can get a measure of our progress?” Mrs R reasonably postulated. I referred the lady to my vow made in the Penrhyn Road bar all those years ago. A narrow escape…

Dante’s 10th circle of hell

Then about three years ago I decided I wanted to become a London walking tour guide. Thing is, if you’re going to do that properly, you need training and accreditation. And to gain accreditation, you need to do courses and sit exams. Ah well, I suppose I at least managed 30 exam-free years…

First night on the City of London course back in September 2011, our wonderful tutor, Trevor Jeanes, is illustrating the art of “less is more” with the comment “Just because any of us could stand outside a City church and wax lyrical about it for hours doesn’t mean to say we should”.  Not a problem for me, I thought, I was damn sure I couldn’t. Maybe I was in the wrong place…

It’s fair to say that before I started this particular journey I had a this ill-founded preconception that tour guides were either schlocky out of work actors or information obsessives determined to share you with every minutiae of detail that’s in their head. However, once I worked out the requirement was to be neither Priscilla Queen of the Desert nor some fundamentalist version of Simon Schama, I thought maybe I was in the right place after all.

Thing was, once the City course was completed I had this sort of Stockholm Syndrome over being tied to the yoke of delving into the history of this great city, so I jumped straight out of the frying pan of the City of London course into the fire of its City of Westminster equivalent. Glutton for punishment? Possibly. Put it this way, there was just about enough steam left in the boiler to get through the Westminster course final written exam last night.

So, two years, four practical exams (involving researching and learning 67 different stop commentaries of which I was only ever going to have to deliver 8), two written exams, a written assignment and enough midnight oil burned to keep a small town lit later, I now have my City of London and City of Westminster badges and the adventure of sharing the delights of the greatest city in the world now starts in earnest.

It’s been great; I’ve met some of the most wonderful, fascinating and supportive people it’s ever been my pleasure to cross paths with and I’ve learned loads (and on the subject of wonderful tutors, special mention must be reserved for the tutor of the Westminster guiding course, Dr Caroline Dunmore – ably assisted by Fiona Lukas – for their hard work and boundless enthusiasm in dragging us all over the line).

But this time I mean it. No. More. Exams. Ever. If anyone hears me utter the words “course, thinking, doing, of” in the same sentence, shoot me…