Sunday, 4 August 2013

Under pressure - in exams, in fights

Every year I watch with amazement the television coverage of schoolchildren squealing with delight and hugging each other as they discover the results of their A Level exams - or whatever they call them now. Somehow the cameras never catch the poor souls weeping in the corner or putting their heads down the toilet.  The old-school cynic in me might suspect that almost everyone passes, getting lucky in the multiple choice world of modern education.  The media cynic in me might suspect that the presence of TV cameras could have something to do with it.  (I'll be sitting my Grumpy Old Man Finals soon.)

     When I were a lad, such displays of emotion were never seen.  A well-hidden inner glow of success, maybe, or a carefree "What the hell, I'm going to be a mechanic, anyway" was about all you would get.  So it would seem that "coolness" about success was endemic then.  Or maybe the others hid their elation or despair better than kids do today.  I can honestly say that I just accepted the fact that I was reasonably gifted academically.  Later it became clear to me that I was particularly good at passing exams, and that was probably because I never fretted over the results, never felt any pressure.

     Boys who did well at exams, the swots, could become targets for bullies.  Looking back, perhaps I should be grateful to John K, who came out top of the class, every year, every month it seemed, whenever there was an academic test of any kind in almost any subject.  My main claim to fame was that I was always coming second to him - except for one year.

     The odd thing is that John knocked around with, and seemed to outsiders to be part of, the JPS gang. The stories that went around about some of the indignities he suffered at their hands could bring tears to your eyes, tears of imaginative empathy rather than sympathy with his plight.  Our laughter was as cruel in its way as the homo-erotic bullying itself.  On one occasion it was rumoured that a coat of shellac was applied to parts of his person.  It was bragged of, to much merriment, as "adding lustre to his cluster".

     The one year when JK did not do well, in fact I don't believe he gained top marks in even one subject, was, sadly, our final year at school, when almost everyone was pushing for university entrance grades.  Had the bullying had an effect (other years had not suffered) or had his own or his parents' expectations pushed him too hard?  In that year, I came out top dog, getting top marks in the school in two subjects, while nobody else managed more than one.

     The school mag records that he came back next year and did as well as he had habitually done, gaining a scholarship.  Good for him.  You'll have to look back through this blog to see how my Uni career came off the rails, or rather didn't get off the starting blocks, to mix a metaphor.  (I went to a Grammar School, as you can tell.)

    Time has caught up with me, as it usually does of a Sunday evening, so both my readers will have to wait till next week for the "fights" part of this post.  One I won and one I lost, but the attitude I took into each encounter is more important than either result.

     Coolness rules, OK.