People are always impressed when they find that I’m writing a book. ‘Wow,’ they say in awe, ‘that’s impressive’ and I nod, not because I’m marvelling in my own dedication, but because it’s easier than telling them about the badges.
Some kids have a drink problem; others are into pot or huffing. My addiction was for Teacher’s Association Science Badges.
The process went like this. One selected a topic (from astronomy to zoology) and was given a list of tasks on a sheet of A4. Each task had a rating from 1 – 3 points. Once you tallied up 15 points, you qualified for the badge.
Some of the tasks were tricky:(Conservation)
"Make a solar cooker” 3 points
Others were not:(Optics)
"Draw a colour triangle and write a poem or song about light" 1 point
Some were just weird:(Large Animals)
“Trial three brands of cat food" 2 points
While a few were impossible:(Geology)
"Find out why dinosaurs became extinct” 1 point
When completed, the research was checked and $5 collected to pay for the badge. A month later it arrived - cold, heavy and shining like a nugget of gold to be awarded in a makeshift ceremony at the end of Science class.
Completing a science badge was supposed to be quite an achievement, the high school equivalent of say, a Nobel Prize. At the beginning of the year Mr Shaffer - the Science teacher renowned for large sweat rings under his armpits - gravely announced that we should attempt to earn just one of these coveted badges per term.
I’ve always liked a challenge.
I can’t remember when I decided to do them all. I liked research and libraries, and I hadn’t quite slotted into a social group - but more importantly I’ve always had fanatical commitment levels.
When I was nine, Mr Saunders asked me to create Christmas decorations for the classroom, so I made life-size images of Santa Claus, Mrs Claus, Elves, and Reindeer - the works. They were so popular I began to do them on commission for my classmates earning a bit of pocket money in the process. I published my first newspaper when I was ten and wrote and directed my first play the same year which was performed in front of Assembly. I was editor of my Secondary School paper when I was 12 (which I ostentatiously called The Stentorian), I was Student Rep at 16, Head Prefect at 17, I played badminton, soccer, tennis and went to the Model United Nations - so yes, I was that
kid. In hindsight, it wasn’t simply a case of repressed homosexual over-achieving; I genuinely liked having fingers in pies.
I’m not sure how I paid for all the badges. I have a hunch I may have sold some earlier science badge research to fellow classmates just so I could afford a new one. Mr Shaffer would always look exasperated when I approached with my folder.
‘Which one is it today?’ he’d sigh.
‘Ornotholgy,’ I’d reply, ‘and um, horticulture. And Chemical and Process Engineering.’
‘Any more?’ he’d ask sarcastically.
‘Oh - and Marine Biology.’
After achieving all 22 science badges I once decided to wear them all to school. Don’t ask me why. I think there was a certain kitsch factor in them. All I know is that my green wool jersey was never the same again.
So writing a mere novel is nothing when you compare it to my industrious youth. Once you’ve found out why dinosaurs became extinct (thesis now quoted by the British Science Council) and written a pop song about neon light, 80,000 words don’t seem so tough. Heck, if there was a science badge in authoring I’d probably have three by now.