Thursday 15th August
Not a nightmare, but that didn’t stop me waking up tense. Showered but didn’t eat. Car. “I know that these grades don’t decide my life,” I told Mum. “I know from Rosa’s experience that if they aren’t what I’m hoping for it doesn’t mean I won’t be successful. The thing is that because I know that, it becomes much more personal. I’m not going to have failed anyone except myself, and to me that’s the most important thing.”
School. Spoke briefly with Eleanor and Agnes, and asked people how they were as I walked through the atrium. Most seemed positive. Was handed my envelope and forced myself to open it straight away, knowing if I hesitated I would struggle ever to do it. Didn’t know what to make of what I saw in front of me.
Initially, I was grinning. A in History and Music too. C in French, which was predictable. And a B in English.
And it was then that I froze.
Jenny arrived and was pleased. We looked through the grade boundaries and started to work out percentages and suchlike, but my head was spinning a little. Ms D came over. “I thought you’d be a little disappointed,” she said. “Yeah,” I replied. “Don’t really know what to think.” She talked me through some stuff. I texted Mum who came in, and we had a chat with Mr G, who thought I should ‘have a rethink’ and consider reading ‘Social Anthropology’ at university. Couldn’t help feeling he’d lost a little faith in me, and that maybe that was justified. Found out a friend of mine is in a similar situation, and didn’t know what to make of it all. Sent off for a remark, because I didn’t do it for my GCSEs and regretted it hugely. Caught up with a few people, and got a text from a rightly ecstatic Jamie who, with results of AAB, is going to his first choice university, Exeter, to study languages a whole year early – really couldn’t be more pleased for him.
Drove into the city with Mum who was angry, not at me but The System. Sent what felt like a hundred texts to various people to find out how my friends had got on. It seemed the majority were pleased. I needed shoes for the party this evening so we wandered through Chapelfield. I tried a gorgeous pair on in House of Fraser but knew I wouldn’t be able to manage the heel, and eventually settled on an equally pretty pair from Monsoon before heading home, where I talked stuff over with Rosa.
We had to leave super-quickly, which meant I forgot to bring the scores I’d promised Billie. I hoped he’d forgive me considering the circumstances. We dropped Rosa at the station and then navigated our way to the Exotic Garden, where the function was being held. It is the most amazing place! I hope Rosa and I can get there before she leaves, and if you are ever in the area I highly recommend a visit. The owner, Will, is absolutely lovely, and we were warmly greeted and shown a variety of places we could play. Chose the highest spot in the garden, a stone patio overlooking the space with a covered area right next to it where we figured we could run if it rained. Eventually settled down to rehearse, with Billie running all over the garden to make sure we could be heard from as many places as possible.
With an hour to go we headed to the supermarket to buy tea, which consisted of a sandwich for me, as well as some of the doughnuts the others insisted on buying! Caught up with Billie on the walks there and back which was lovely. We changed and then navigated our way through the tropical wilderness of the garden to our playing space (pretty tricky in heels whilst carrying instruments!) and made ourselves comfortable before beginning to play. After the first hour a speech was made so we were called down and given lemonade in wine glasses (we were refused Pimm’s).
A resident cat took up most of the space on the table.
We headed back up for the second half, during which one of the employees from the company snapped some pictures of us on Heather’s camera. We played well on the whole, and it seemed to be over extremely quickly. Heather’s mum told us that the head of the company hosting the party had come to listen to us, and that many of the guests had been impressed. Billie gave me a hand with the harp, which meant that the others went ahead of us – but the owner of the garden stopped and talked to us on the way down.
We found out we’d been re-booked for the same event next year! What’s more, he asked us to come and play in the garden one weekend day in September, when it’s open to visitors. “When we’ve had people come and play before,” he said, “visitors normally sit up on the steps and listen, so you get an audience, and if you leave a hat out you’ll be rich!” He even writes a column in the EDP describing what’s going on in the city over the week, and offered to put us in as advertising! Hugely exciting, but I was holding a harp in a full-length dress and heels and spent much of it ensuring I didn’t fall over…
As we made our way back through the garden the few guests who were left congratulated and thanked us. It seems we really were appreciated.
We packed up our stuff pretty quickly and headed home, £26 richer and wishing Billie and Sophie luck for their GCSE results next week. But as soon as I got in the car, I felt drained and sad. I knew this was because I hadn’t been alone since I woke up that morning, and the day itself had been stressful and wrought with emotion. I shut myself in my office and found my phone about to die; couldn’t help wishing I could just be ‘plugged in’ and restored to ‘former glory’.
Jamie called around half nine. Although only half an hour beforehand I’d been complaining to myself that I just wanted to be left alone, all I wanted at this point was to talk to him – mostly to congratulate him on his well-deserved grades and uni place, but also because I knew he would cheer me up. His first attempt went as follows:
warning: prior knowledge of meme necessary to understand this joke
Once we were on call I told him I felt overdressed – I was still in my garden party outfit. He responded by racing into his room and returning a matter of minutes later in a shirt, bow tie and jacket: a celebratory post-results black-tie Skype session was certainly what I was in need of. He tried to persuade me to go to Exeter (which is now on my list of places to check out) and then said, “Hey, Luce, if you go to Bradford University, they will give you ten thousand pounds at the gate with your grades!” We worked out what we were going to do when we meet up next week (ROAD TRIP) and talked about first dates (“I went to that place with the fish that eat your feet with a girl once…”). Established that he is ‘a bastion of spontaneity’.
But what was wonderful was that it wasn’t all joking around and taking my mind off it. He let me ramble on, let me talk things through, properly (“Damn, I hadn’t cried until now.”). Worked out exactly why I was upset. “I had a plan. If it went well, I knew exactly what would happen, and if it didn’t go well, I knew what I’d do then, too.” I thought aloud. “But not getting an A in English never crossed my mind. It was just unprecedented, so I haven’t thought about this situation. So now I don’t know what to do, and that really scares me.”
After our three-hour call ended (yeah, you read that right, three hours), I sat at my desk and thought back to what I said to Mum in the car on the way to school. Have I failed myself? Should I believe Mr G, and go and study something completely different? Should I believe my GCSE English teacher who, when I ‘only’ got an A in my poetry exam in Year 10, told me I ‘didn’t deserve an A*’?
These letters do not define me, I know that. They do not decide the rest of my life. But I feel like the in-between space I’ve been lost in since the end of exams – the space I thought I would reach the end of upon opening the envelope – now seems to extend beyond me, way into the next year. Should I apply to universities this year? For what course? Should I see what happens on results day next year and reapply in my gap year? Should I retake my English exam next summer (because, thanks to our esteemed Education Secretary, all January exams have been scrapped)? Is it worth it? How can I know? Who can help?
I don’t know what to do now, and that scares me more than the thought of opening that envelope ever did.