16 August, 2006

Final score

Tomorrow is the day when A Level results come out, and I will find myself, as I do every year, thinking back to the day when I received mine and the day when, to all intents and purposes, my school life came to an end.

The occasion was about a dozen times more potent than it needed to have been, thanks to me being nowhere near the school in question and instead at least 200 miles further north. I was in Edinburgh, in the middle of appearing in a play at the Fringe Festival.

This state of affairs, while in its own way profoundly enjoyable and assuredly memorable, was far from the ideal scenario in which I'd always envisaged I would receive those tatty scraps of paper and take my leave of comprehensive education.

I'd assumed, if not hoped, it to be similar to that in which I got my GCSE results: everyone all gathered together in a rather desperate noisy throng, jostling and japing outside in the late August sun, waiting to be let into that section of the school which had been specially opened up to dispense the good and ill tidings, everyone still in a holiday mood, nobody quite taking it seriously.

Of course when it came to my A Levels, it was, as Smash Hits used to say, nothing of the sort. While almost all of my peers were indeed standing outside in the August sun waiting to be let into the school 6th form common room, me and five others were not just in another place but another country.

I'd rarely felt more alone and more helpless on that grim Thursday morning, sitting alone in my bedroom (in, oh the irony, a hall of residence), wondering how and when the news would be conveyed to me. All I or any of us knew was that the teacher in charge of the trip, indeed the director of the play in which we were appearing, would somehow turn up in our rooms at some point before lunchtime and pass on our grades. The fact this teacher was at the least somewhat eccentric, at the most downright demented, did not make matters one smidgen easier.

Our play, about which I'll write more later this month, always began late afternoon so there was literally nothing to do and nowhere to go until the results arrived.

My roommate, who I hated, and who was about ten years older than me and only on the trip because he used to go out with the teacher, was thankfully nowhere to be seen. Neither, though, were any of my mates - few in number on that trip, for the cast was made up of both present and ex-pupils, and I only really counted three of them as close friends.

So I waited. And waited. I can't remember what precisely I did while waiting - listened to the radio, probably, because I do have a vivid recollection of being tuned to the Radio One Roadshow presented by Simon Mayo and feeling faintly petrified (though the two may be connected).

Eventually I saw the figure of the teacher striding stupidly across the long wide lawn in front of the building. I guessed she was on her way to put us out of our misery. Or into it, depending on what tidings she brought. She never said much to me at the best of times, and in this instance she simply knocked on my door, handed me a bit of folded up paper, and left. She might not have said one word.

When you're at school, every time you get a set of results, be they examinations, tests, swimming badges, musical grades, gold stars, certificates or even a special mention in assembly, you're made to feel, and to a degree you secretly believe, they are the most important set of results you'll ever get.

Until the next one, of course, and the one after that.

Back then, however, clutching that hopelessly tiny scrap of paper, I suddenly wanted to be with everybody else who had made that self-same journey to the end of the line, all of the people back home who I knew would be by turn celebrating and comforting each other and feeding off the babble of collective adrenalin and excitement which I knew from experience couldn't help but surface on such occasions.

Instead I had but a few minutes of ebullience with my close friends, immediately tempered by the fact not everybody present on the trip was getting some results, and among those that were lurked a couple of people who displayed such narrow-minded indifference to getting utterly crap marks as to leave me virtually speechless.

Later in the day I tried to ring a couple of people back home (using a payphone, naturally) to catch up on their results and those of our mutual acquaintances. At the time I dutifully recorded as many sets of marks as I could in my diary, believing it to be important for posterity and to provide a suitable epilogue to the preceding chapters of life in the sixth form.

Soon enough, however, thoughts turned to other matters; to the performance of the play that evening, to the nature of our stay in Edinburgh, to the things we'd won and lost while being there, our changing and unchanging relationships, our feelings for the city itself, and our feelings for home and everyone we'd left behind and - though we weren't minded to properly acknowledge it yet - everyone we would leave behind a second time in just a few short weeks.

Although my A Level results were the end of the road as far as school was concerned, and to me felt like a far more substantive achievement than my GCSEs, within a matter of months they too had ceased to mean a thing. Just as my subsequent degree does now, and indeed every single exam I have ever sat in my entire life. Indeed, the job I am in now I didn't get because of my A Levels, or my degree, or any exam.

Such notions are all relative, but I can't still but wonder why and whether those particular results should not have added up to much more in the grand scheme of things.

They were, after all, the end product of the two best years of my life.


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