It seems only five minutes since I was sitting, black pen in hand and newly purchased (non-graffitied) clear pencil case arranged neatly on my worn wooden desk, ready to take exams.
This terrifying experience, preceded by days and months of spending hours creating multi-coloured revision timetables with luminous markers and chewing pens in an angsty fashion whilst being in direct conflict with my parents about my lack of focus and desire to attend the local disco, seems as clear as yesterday. I can summon those feelings of hopeless misery in a moment.
The actual business of exam day has taken a soft focused tinge of unreality, in the way traumatic experiences tend to do.
Waking in the morning with a dry mouth, trying and failing to ingest breakfast cereal while reading a text book, possibly for the first time.
Then the miserable walk to school, queuing up outside the hall, before filing in with sweaty palms to be judged – over the period of an hour-and-a-half – as to whether I was suitable for a socially acceptable future based on the accuracy of my memory – and as my mind had gone blank, it didn’t look good.
I’d like to say these are fond memories. They are not. I was personally never going to be selected for the jumping in the air photos with my star-free grades ( should have studied), tendency to melt under pressure and teenage hormonal shyness that didn’t allow me to look anybody directly in the face.
My grades ranged from good to decently acceptable for GCSE and an unhelpful combo of excellent to mediocre at A-level which saw me grovelling with the best of them through the painful process of clearing, making poor decisions based on the little advice available , then choosing the wrong degree and wrong uni, picked as it was as geographically remote from my parents as possible.
An ill-advised determination to study English ( no journalism degrees back then) saw even the most mediocre colleges requiring armfuls of As.
If I’d chosen a slightly offbeat degree I could have gone to a uni of my choice. Instead I sloped off down south to learn to drink, and write music reviews and interviews for the student rag. It didn’t really matter where I went – I had an excellent time.
Exams are important but they are far from everything. It is great to do well, but there is so much more.
I really feel for students facing the pressure of results but if my experiences are anything to go by, there is always a way and a means of working toward your dreams.
Listen to advice but forge your own path. Nothing happens instantly and by itself. If you are determined, you’ll do it.
But if nothing else, those moments of sweaty palms, the highs and the lows, the realisation that social order is not just determined by the shininess of your hair, but by hard work – taught me as much as the school subjects themselves.
I may be clueless about Tsarist Russia but on life, I’m your woman.