It’s A-level results day, which got me thinking about how it went for me as a neurotic 18-year-old back in the day, so here’s my account of what I did. Would be good to hear yours!
I had an offer of BC to study maths at Edinburgh (I had completed my A level in maths the previous year, hence the two-grade offer) and I was confident I would get it- the only niggles were Chemistry and the fact that I had to take my A levels with a World Cup going on in the background (not during the actual exams themselves, that would be daft).
I might have liked Chemistry more (and maybe even studied it at uni) if I hadn’t smashed every piece of glassware imaginable in the lab over the five years of school. The previous year’s practical AS-level was my worst mark I got and I struggled to get to grips with organic chemistry, the fact anodes were positive but anions were negative, and the puzzling problem that adding two chemicals produced a colour called “Turnbull’s blue” and adding two different chemicals that produced the same compound produced a colour that was called “Prussian blue”. The majority of my revision time was taken up with organic chemistry and the German occupation of France in world war 2 (with the World Cup on and the sound down) in the manse dining room.
August 15th came round, and I don’t really remember much about the morning’s events. Going to a boys’ school and receiving results by post meant it unlikely that me or anyone I knew would be featured in the newspaper leaping for joy with results in hand (which is a blessing), so we had to make do with waiting for the postman to show up. Results day was the one day you could rely on the postman being early, and so he did.
I was never comfortable with being watched opening things (especially when a camera is being pointed at me) in case I gave the “wrong” reaction- I wanted to,open the envelope on my own, but I convinced myself that it was better to open it with my family. Calmly, I opened it to reveal 4 As. Obviously I was pleased, but since a particularly stern dressing-down from my dad about big-headedness in my first year, I had struggled with how to go about acknowledging my own academic achievements, so I just said “cool” and after a couple of hugs, went off and did my own thing.
I was in my room and turned to look at the door. Mum was there in floods of tears. She was devastated that the result meant that I was going to leave home (my older brother went to Queen’s so this would mean I was the first) and she said as I was hugging her that she was worried I would go away and never come back. I didn’t know what to say, I think I came out with “I’ll come back at Christmas” but that’s not what she meant. Of course, she was proved right ands set so often I think about this and wonder the implications.
My brother was working later so we went out for lunch to Olio in Belfast to celebrate. Walking towards it, we met Robert Bell (no not that one), the minister who baptised me. His daughter Kathryn had also got her results that day and she too had done well- she was off to Trinity in Dublin. When asked how I did, I didn’t really want to say, so instead, I handed him the sheet with the results on it. He congratulated me and we went off and enjoyed our lunch. Predictably, I got told off later on for the way I was telling people my results (the only other people I told that I can remember were my grandparents)- it seems my efforts in playing it down had the opposite effect…
The rest of the day was a fairly normal summer evening. I’d toyed with the idea of going to watch Glentoran in the UEFA Cup that evening, but I decided against it. Mark went to work and I watched rubbish on TV. It wasn’t until the next day when I got a letter confirming that I would be staying in Pollock Halls that it really hit home, but that’s for another time.