This morning, watching the coverage of the annual A Level results hoopla (the whole debate over the value of the qualification, poor kids having to find out what they got LIVE ON AIR, the fact that there aren’t enough university places et cetera et cetera…), I had a flashback to my own A Level results experience, 17 years ago.
(Oh hello, enthusiastic use of the Body Shop’s henna hair dye)
I don’t remember being really nervous that morning, but I must have been. This was back in the day when you had to choose 5 universities and 5 polytechnics to apply to, and I’d had the mortifying (at the time) experience of being rejected by 4 out of the 5 universities. When I read the rejection letter from Bristol (the last one to arrive, after an agonising wait) I ran upstairs and flung myself onto my bed, where I sobbed hysterically for a good hour. So on this sunny morning in 1993 – was it sunny? I think it was sunny – I knew I needed to get an A, a B and a C in my 3 subjects in order to get into Leeds, the only university to offer me a place.*
A friend gave me a lift up to the school – she wasn’t expecting to have done well at all (and she wasn’t planning on going to university), but she told me how her parents had given her a ‘Congratulations on Passing Your Exams!’ card already. When we got to the school there were lots of nervous faces to be seen. I had to go to the secretary’s office to get my results – I remember it being very quiet in there, and, CLICHE ALERT, it felt like time stood still. I opened the envelope and tried to focus my eyes on the letters typed on the little slip of paper.
I felt a huge sense of relief. Thank god! Then I felt disappointed that I hadn’t got an A in Theatre Studies. Then I realised that it didn’t bloody matter! I left the office and went to the pay phone (a pay phone! proper olden days stuff here) to put my parents out of their misery. After a lot of excited screaming from my mother I put the phone down and made my way to meet my friend for the drive home. As soon as I saw her face I knew that her little slip of paper hadn’t brought good news. I got into the car and hoped she wouldn’t ask me how I’d done, because then I’d have to tell her and ask about her results.
“So, what did you get?”
“Um, I got ABC. How about you?”
“Two Ns and a U”
HOLY AWKWARD MOMENT BATMAN!
I offered my sympathies, and she congratulated me. I could tell that although she was very disappointed she was also relieved that nothing was hanging on those results – she was already enrolled on a journalism course (we eventually lost touch but I think she ended up being a financial advisor. I know she managed to buy a house before I did!).
Walking back in to my house, I was handed a glass of celebratory champagne. It was soon clear that my parents were already mildly inebriated – mum had managed to ring all my relatives to give them the news, and I’m pretty sure she’d also been out to tell the neighbours. It was lovely to feel their pride in me – mum had completed an Open University degree (in English and Maths – weirdo) a couple of years before, but I would be the first person from either family to go away to University.
I think I drank about half of that glass of champagne before it hit me. I would be leaving home. I was going to university in a city I had never been to before. Hell, the furthest north I’d ever been was Essex! My life was changing. Was I ready?
*I did also have offers from Middlesex and North London polytechics, but their courses were nowhere near as good at that time.