1 QUESTION: Stepson to Robert Dudley and onetime favorite of Elizabeth I, which nobleman led a poorly planned and unsuccessful revolt against the queen, and was subsequently executed in 1601? ANSWER: Essex. All young people worry about things, it's a natural and inevitable part of growing up, and at the age of sixteen my greatest anxiety in life was that I'd never again achieve anything as good, or pure, or noble, or true, as my O-level exam results. I didn't make a big deal about them at the time, of course; I didn't frame the certificates or anything weird like that, and I won't go into the actual grades here, because then it just gets competitive, but I definitely liked having them: qualifications. Sixteen years old, and the first time I'd ever felt qualified for anything. Of course, all that was a long, long time ago. I'm eighteen now, and I like to think I'm a lot wiser and cooler about these things. So my A-levels are, comparatively, no big deal. Besides, the notion that you can somehow quantify intelligence by some ridiculous, antiquated system of written examinations is obviously specious. Having said that, they were Langley Street Comprehensive School's best A-level results of 1985, the best for fifteen years in fact, three As and a B, that's nineteen pointsthere, I've said it nowbut I really, honestly don't believe that's particularly relevant, I just mention them in passing. And, anyway, compared to other qualities, like physical courage, or popularity, or good looks, or clear skin, or an active sex life, just knowing a whole load of stuff isn't actually that important. But like my dad used to say, the crucial thing about an education is the opportunity that it brings, the doors it opens, because otherwise knowledge, in and of itself, is a blind alley, especially from where I'm sitting, here, on a late-September Wednesday afternoon, in a factory that makes toasters. I've spent the holiday working in the dispatch department of Ashworth Electricals, which means I'm responsible for putting the toasters in their boxes before they're sent out to the retailers. Of course, there are only so many ways you can put a toaster in a box, so it's been a pretty dull couple of months over all, but, on the plus side, it's 1.85 an hour, which isn't bad, and as much toast as you can eat. As it's my last day here, I've been keeping an eye open for the surreptitious passing round of the good-bye card and the collection for the leaving present, and waiting to find out which pub we're going to for farewell drinks, but it's 6:15 now, so I think it's probably safe to assume that everyone's just gone home. Just as well, though, because I had other plans anyway, so I get my stuff, grab a handful of Bics and a roll of tape from the stationery cupboard, and head off to the pier, where I'm meeting Spencer and Tone. At 2,360 yards, or 2.158 kilometers, Southend Pier is officially the longest pier in the world. This is probably a little bit too long, to be honest, especially when you're carrying a lot of lager. We've got twelve large cans of Skol, sweet-and-sour pork balls, special fried rice and a portion of chips with curry sauceflavors from around the worldbut by the time we reach the end of the pier, the lagers are warm and the takeaway's cold. As this is a special celebration Tone's also had to lug his ghetto blaster, which is the size of a small wardrobe and, it's fair to say, will probably never blast a ghetto, unless you count Shoeburyness. At the moment it's playing Tone'Nicholls, David is the author of 'Question of Attraction', published 2004 under ISBN 9781400061815 and ISBN 1400061814.