Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A-levels: the horror…

Results tomorrow (and Leaving Cert if you're in Ireland). I can't say I remember much about that day, other than the overwhelming senses of firstly, depressingly low expectations. My headmaster's reference on the UCAS/PCAS forms was 'does not deserve a place at any university - thanks to the very kind man at Derby University who told me I didn't really seem to fit the description, and let me read it.

After the miserable anticipation came the phone call, and the dreadful dawning of reality. I knew I'd do well at English. I knew I should do well at French but would drop some grades thanks to stupidly answering 3 questions from the same section rather than two from one and one from the other. Can't complain. It was dumb. I fully expected to fail Latin because a) I didn't know any and b) nobody listened to me when I told them I didn't know any. Oh and c) I didn't want to do it and was made to because there was only me and the teacher was in a wheelchair. I didn't quite fail but nor was I acclaimed Emperor.

So, there it was. I'd already been banned by the parents from taking the Drama and Theatre degree I'd auditioned for at Trinity Dublin, so it was into Clearing. If you're reading this, kids: Clearing is your friend. I ended up at a brilliant university, and turned from a lazy failure to a lazy success. It certainly wasn't my doing, so all credit to Bangor University for taking a chance on an unknown kid.

In a few weeks, you won't care about your grades. Once you're in, you can change from the course you chose under parental pressure or because that was all that was available in Clearing. You're free. You might not end up where all your friends are, but these random and unexpected turns are where all the fun is. You'll make new friends, try courses which never occurred to you. New hair, new clothes, entirely new background if that's what suits you. I turned up with tapes of Automatic For The People and The Lark Ascending. I left with hundreds of books and records, and even some friends (not forgetting the massive debts). Who'd have thunk it?

Of course, you shouldn't just take my advice. If you're a spoiled airhead, then listen to Rosie Millard at the Daily Telegraph (thanks, Nicola):
Freshers should take a tip from boarding school veterans, and pack a large trunk with all the nick-nacks and antiques that make their rooms feel special.
Yes, I took along the cannon my great-great-grandfather used to singlehandedly annex the Limpopo. And a stuffed Dodo. Mumsie was so pleased.
Pack that lovely Mexican throw, the baseball glove from your summer in America and the cushions from Bulgaria. They will make your room look different, and encourage conversation on something you know about. 
These conversations will take place later on, when you're not there. They will largely revolve around the proposal that you are without doubt a Massive Wanker.
Invest in some proper blankets or Egyptian cotton sheets from John Lewis. You could also check out linen in the Heal’s sale as it is usually available at a massive discount. While we’re on soft furnishings, a pair of decent curtains will brighten up your room and make it personal. Habitat or John Lewis have a ready-made selection.
Although soft furnishings from Tesco or TJ Hughes are so ironic, darlings.
A portable instrument such as a ukulele or guitar is a brilliant accessory. Particularly if you know how to play it, and have a selection of seductive Paul Simon numbers up your sleeve.
Ah yes, the guitars. There were occasional people who could produce an acoustic guitar at a party and judge the mood perfectly: communal singing, adoring looks, confident performances. Actually, there's one: my friend Matt, who spent his gap year touring with a band, and had 3 albums out before he ever went to a lecture. He can walk the walk. But on the whole, getting your guitar out is a tragic attempt to look sexy and soulful, and it's never improved by the fact that you only know one verse and one chorus of a very narrow range of boring 60s songs. If you could, for instance, do a madrigal version of a Slayer track, I'd say yes. If you can't, then you deserve a ruthless beating for your presumption. You are not a Musical Sex God. You are a David Brent wannabe.

I had the misfortune to attend a rural-ish university in the 90s. That meant that an outrageous proportion of the menfolk - often Southern, rich and privately-educated - thought that they could acquire dreadlocks and perform on the didgeridoo as though doing us all a favour. (Why were the women so much more sensible/mature/tasteful? These men were wrong. It is the devil's instrument. Every time I heard one, or smelt that mixture of sweat and bad weed which meant that a didge-toter was in the vicinity, I wanted to commit unspeakable acts of violence.

Looking back, I was right.

Where was I? Oh yes, Clearing. Grasp it. It could be the making of you. And if you're really unlucky, you might find me at the front of your first lecture. You'll recognise me by my hunted look and the desperation in my eyes.


ed said...

A girl I work with was crying her eyes out with worry earlier. I think I might relay what you have to say.

I did well on my A-levels, but only out of fear of doing bad, which made the whole experience quite horrible all in all. Basing self-worth on grades = early twenties breakdown.

So, great piece Vole. But stop knocking acoustic guitars...

Anonymous said...

Good post

The Plashing Vole said...

OK, it's not the acoustic guitar, it's the atrocities perpetuated with them.

The Plashing Vole said...

Guitars don't kill parties, people do.

Ross said...

I'm going to work out a madrigal version of South of Heaven later. Thanks for the inspiration!

Or maybe a Slayer version of Monteverdi...