When I was young, I failed the 11 plus.
This was bad news, because your future was pretty much decided by this exam.
If you passed it you went to Grammar School.
There, you learned English, Maths, French, Latin, Physics, History, and studied for ‘O’ level GCE.
If you did well, you studied for ‘A’ level and went to university.
But if you failed your 11 plus, you didn’t do any of that.
You went to Secondary Modern School.
There, if you were a boy, you studied Metalwork and Woodwork.
If you were a girl, you studied Typing and Cooking.
You left school at 15 and, if you were a boy, tried to get an apprenticeship as a toolmaker in a factory.
If you were a girl you tried to get a job as a secretary, or get married.
That was your future, decided at 11.
So my parents weren’t very pleased when I failed the 11 plus.
And it got worse.
I went to pretty much the worst school in my part of east London.
And it got worse.
I came bottom of the class.
I didn’t think things could get any worse.
Until the parent’s evening.
All the parents had to go along and queue up at the form-teacher’s desk.
They could all hear what he was saying about each other’s children.
My mate’s parents were in front of my mum.
She heard the teacher saying that their boy was clever and he should do well.
Then it was Mum’s turn.
She asked the teacher what he thought about me staying on at school to do ‘O’ level GCEs.
When he finished laughing, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, he said “Keep him on at school, that’s ridiculous, what a waste of money. You’d be better off spending the money on a new car.”
My mum was humiliated in front of the other parents.
Then she went home to tell my dad.
He was on night shift, so she had to wake him up to get ready for work.
I knew what was coming, so I grabbed all my comics and went and hid out over the park.
It was dark so no one could see me.
But I could see Dad driving round the streets in the car looking for me.
Eventually he went off to work and I went home.
The next few weeks were pretty unpleasant.
I never forgot what that teacher said.
That’s why I appreciate what the founder of J D Wetherspoons did.
Wetherspoons is a large range of pubs and hotels all over the UK.
It was founded in 1979 by Tim Martin.
Wetherspoons now has 764 pubs, 16 hotels, and over 20,000 employees.
It has annual revenue of £955 million, an operating income of £97 million, and a profit of £25 million.
I’m not an accountant, but those figures sound pretty good to me.
But the part I like most of all is why the company is called J D WETHERSPOON.
When Tim Martin, the founder, was at school he had a teacher called J D Wetherspoon.
Apparently that teacher told Tim Martin’s parents that he’d never amount to anything.
Tim Martin grew up wanting to prove him wrong.
But he knew if he just put his own name, Martin, on his pubs the teacher might not spot it.
After all ‘Martin’ could be anybody.
But he knew nobody can resist looking at their own name.
So, just to rub it in, he named the company after that teacher.
Because Tim Martin wanted J D Wetherspoon to see his own name on pubs all over the country.
And, every time he passed his own name, to know it was put there by the boy he said would never amount to anything.