Cider as a Study Aid

The following was gleaned from “The Life of the Mind: Oliver Sacks’s 121 Formative and Favorite Books from a Lifetime of Reading“post on Brain Pickings.Premiere Party for "Awakenings"

Cider turns up in the most interesting places. For instance, you don’t expect to find it as an effective test preparation. However, Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author (and the real doctor behind Awakenings) consoled and then inspired himself with cider during his college exams:

My mother, a surgeon and anatomist, while accepting that I was too clumsy to follow in her footsteps as a surgeon, expected me at least to excel in anatomy at Oxford. We dissected bodies and attended lectures and, a couple of years later, had to sit for a final anatomy exam. When the results were posted, I saw that I was ranked one from bottom in the class. I dreaded my mother’s reaction and decided that, in the circumstances, a few drinks were called for. I made my way to a favorite pub, the White Horse in Broad Street, where I drank four or five pints of hard cider—stronger than most beer and cheaper, too.

Rolling out of the White Horse, liquored up, I was seized by a mad and impudent idea. I would try to compensate for my abysmal performance in the anatomy finals by having a go at a very prestigious university prize — the Theodore Williams Scholarship in Human Anatomy. The exam had already started, but I lurched in, drunkenly bold, sat down at a vacant desk, and looked at the exam paper.

There were seven questions to be answered; I pounced on one (“Does structural differentiation imply functional differentiation?”) and wrote nonstop for two hours on the subject, bringing in whatever zoological and botanical knowledge I could muster to flesh out the discussion. Then I left, an hour before the exam ended, ignoring the other six questions.

The results were in The Times that weekend; I, Oliver Wolf Sacks, had won the prize. Everyone was dumbfounded — how could someone who had come one but last in the anatomy finals walk off with the Theodore Williams prize?

Sacks won £50 in prize money, the most he’d ever had at once. With his windfall he says he “…went not to the White Horse but to Blackwell’s bookshop (next door to the pub) and bought, for £44, the twelve volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary…”[1]

You have to wonder how much of the remaining £6 was spent on cider. Certainly he had more exams.[2]

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1. Cheap cider and books in one location? Sounds like nirvana.

2. We don’t recommend the above as an appropriate test-taking tactic.

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