30 years ago, give or take a couple of days, it was my GCSE results day. I doubt I had a sleepless night. I know I didn’t arrange to meet friends and walk to school. Because I was 3000 miles away, on holiday in Cyprus, and was barely giving my grades a second thought. I’m sure I’d mentioned this fact to some officialdom at school and it was arranged for them to be posted. And, from what I can recall, I was quite happy to wait to see what was in the envelope on my return. I’m guessing, from this carefree attitude, that we were pretty much automatically guaranteed a place in our school’s Sixth Form!
I recall very little about my actual exams: where they were held, what I wrote, what I wore. I do remember eating two spoonfuls of sugar before I set off from home as I’d read somewhere that this stimulated the brain. I laced my eldest’s tea with extra sugar last year when he was sitting his GCSEs because, let’s be honest, he did need all the help he could get.
Three things, however, have failed to fall through the memory sieve.
1. Being observed doing an experiment in Biology. I remember entering the room in a small group, not knowing what fate awaited us. A bit like a Potions lesson at Hogwarts I imagine! I wasn’t a scientist but I used nous instead. I started to work at a snail’s pace, basically so I could secretly observe what the geeks at the other end of the room we’re doing. I like to call it an alternative form of intelligence.
2. Finishing my Maths exam with the biggest feeling of fear that I hadn’t passed. I wasn’t a mathematician either but I’d never struggled. However, those two papers might as well have been in a different language. Everything I’d been taught didn’t appear in the exams. Or maybe I’d forgotten the sugar that day.
3. My French oral. In the middle of a lesson, you would be summoned to go and pretend you were lost in La Rochelle (even though you’d spent five years learning all about the strange town via Tricolore) or needed two return tickets to Paris. From what I remember, it took place in a carpeted room in the newish block on the site. There were teachers sat at tables with their gigantic tape machines. Why there was more than one exam going on, I don’t know. Anyway, things were going OK until I lost my camera. In the role play, that is. Could I remember the bloody word for camera? I could tell him I wanted a double room with a balcony and the window opened. I could tell him my hoover was broken. I could tell him I was suffering from a cold and needed a plaster (totally unconnected ailments). So, in true secondary school French, I decided it was a masculine noun, stuck ‘mon’ in front of it and said camera as ‘cam-ur-ah’ in the most atrocious French accent. That should do it. Obviously, on returning to the classroom, I flounced in à la Dame Judi Dench, announcing I’d forgotten the word for camera.
“It’s photo-appareil,” chimed a voice from the back. What? What a stupid word! Photo machine? Stupid! (Obviously not stupid enough to stop me doing degree in the language two years later.)
The following day, sitting unassumingly in another lesson, a messenger arrived at the door summoning me to see my French teacher. This was very bizarre. Walking between the buildings I failed to come up with a rational explanation. I was further confused when sitting down in front of him, that, for the first time in two years, he appeared to be embarrassed, ashamed, humble. The bloody fool had only gone and taped over my oral! So here I was, having to do it all again! Deep down I was hopeful that I’d be able to ask for a cheese sandwich with some chips and an Orangina thrown in. But hang on? What was this? The same role play card? I’d lost my camera again! How forgetful of me! Except I hadn’t forgotten the French word for camera and I never have. Unfortunately though, I’ve never lost my camera in France so it hasn’t done me much good remembering it! I never did find out if it was a coincidence that I ended up with the same role play or if my teacher had given it to me out of guilt. I certainly didn’t feel guilty for doing it again!
Come results day, I was occupied throughout with swimming, sunbathing and chasing after a young Cypriot waiter. However, as the evening drew in, I needed to know if I’d passed Maths. I was still days from flying home so the only option was to phone a friend. In the days before data protection and GPDR, it transpired she knew all of my grades! As did everyone else. That little white envelope sitting on my front door mat was redundant. However, I was actually grateful that she somehow knew as she could let me know that I had passed Maths. Just. It was the blemish on my otherwise perfect set of results. But, to this day, it doesn’t bother me. Because it’s what I deserved. Just like the bollocking I should have got for losing my camera not once, but twice!