This is the scene in the Hall on the last morning of the Ushaw Training Conference: Dr Joseph Shaw, Chairman of the LMS, is addressing the priests and conferees. But for the purposes of this post, ignore the people and look at the front of the stage, which I think is called the proscenium; take away the steps and the piano which Paul Waddington is leaning on. (The seating in those old days was not made up of cinema-style chairs, but simple wooden benches.) This is the setting for Readings Up.
In all the schools ('years') from Underlow to Rhetoric, there were quarterly written examinations, and usually the results were just posted on the various noticeboards in each playroom (Ushaw-speak for common room). But there was also in each school (year) something called 'school order'; in other words someone was named as first and someone was named last, with the rest in between. The school order was settled once a year for the following year at the end of the Third Quarter exams - actually, I can't quite remember whether it was at the end of the First Quarter, just before Christmas, or just before the Summer Holidays. In any case the matter was settled at what was called Readings Up.
The whole College is assembled in the Hall, filling it to capacity, from the President to the lowliest student.
Standing at a lectern on the front of the stage stands a Divine (I think) with a large book in which all the results of all the years from top school to bottom school are written in Latin. The most important results are those of the Latin Tests, because on these are based the school order for the following year.
Each school takes its place in a single line at the front of the proscenium, in the school order as it has been. Then the Divine begins to speak: "In Latino, primus Petrus Jones, secundus Joannes Hogg, tertius etc etc." One by one as your name is called you walk back to your seat. Woe betide you if you do not recognise your Christian name in Latin, or are petrified like a rabbit in the headlights, and all around you your friends are leaving you behind and your panic gets even greater, until someone in the Hall whispers out loud that your name has been called and you can sit down, only to receive a quiet cheer as you finally move!
In many cases the new school order resembles the old one with a few ups and downs here and there. But sometimes someone who has been at the top of the school order has a bad day and drops a lot of places. It happened to me: I began at Number Two in the old school order, but my Latin results that quarter were obviously bad and the front of the proscenium was half empty, with me standing forlornly at one end and a big gap developing to one side of me, until my name was eventually called out at number 11 or 12. I received a subdued jeer for that! And the special irony was that that particular Readings Up settled the school order, not just for the following year , but for the rest of the years at Ushaw, through Philosophy and Divinity.
In the end, of course, my final school order has not made any difference to my life as a priest. But Ushaw had some hairy moments, and that was one of them for me.
I look forward to hearing others' recollections of Readings Up.