Today is GCSE day. Thousands of angry, confused teenagers will be gawping, slack jawed and acne abundant, at walls of names and subjects and numbers, baffled at how they did so well or so badly. Some will have battled against the odds in some sink estate shithole to get results that may just see them crawl a little closer to their dream of attending Oxford or Cambridge; before having that dream shattered because they went to a sink estate shithole and/or are ethnically incompatible. Others will have had the privilege of going to one of the best schools in the country and even if they bomb their GCSEs they’ll still get a job in the city through daddy’s connections and will be earning six times my salary before they turn twenty. The little bastards. The least fortunate will have failed on every level, to the extent that just establishing how they did through the maze of scores on the board will be a struggle for their tiny minds. And a special few will have already taken so many drugs or be so self absorbed with the trials of being a teenager or spent so much of the last two years on TikTok that they won’t even realise they’ve taken GCSEs, let alone that they really shouldn’t have bothered.
For today, and for this day only, once a year, the whole nation will be tricked into thinking that GCSE results matter for everyone or that they should care about how anyone else’s children have done. And then tomorrow we’ll all go back to not even pretending that we care. We’ll get all the usual statistical round-ups and some will draw the conclusion that either exams used to be harder or that children are much brighter, but we all know that it is near pointless trying to compare the ‘hardness’ of one exam from the next and, more importantly, how can children possibly be brighter when most of them go to such efforts to be demonstrably thicker than mince? I’m so out of touch with GCSEs that it took me several years to realise that letter grades had been scrapped for numbers, a system that some shining light must have been very pleased with themselves to come up with but that is in effect almost exactly as rubbish as the last system. All I do know is that I took GCSEs and got some grades, though what I truly learned from them is lost in a fog of intellectual vacuity.
Nobody had very high expectations for my GCSE results. I had spent most of the last two years doing as little as possible (unless you consider being a cheeky, daft, four-eyed ginger twat as the equivalent of work) and only really pulled my thumb out when one teacher was so brutally harsh in his assessment of my academic progress and prospects that it managed to jolt me into some last gasp semblance of a human being, one that wasn’t just wearing a school uniform because they were part of an AC/DC tribute act. That biblical dressing down in front of my peers worked; not quite a treat, but it worked. What could have easily been a string of D and E grades turned out to be something slightly more respectable, or rather slightly less pathetic, and I took quite some comfort from seeing the look of surprise on my big brother’s face when I got home to break the news, presumably because he must have quite reasonably expected me to do even worse than he had, and therefore receive an even bigger bollocking. Truly, that day was a triumph, albeit one swamped in mediocrity.
Alas, by today’s standards my result were actually pretty shit. An A, 5 B’s, a C and a D are hardly what you’d have expected Sir Isaac Newton to be racking up if he had taken his GCSEs in 1992, but that doesn’t matter, they were my GCSEs and no-one else’s. The A was for Religious Studies and was appropriately miraculous, chiefly because I’d already decided that religion was a bit if a waste of time and the study of it therefore an even bigger one. Still, to get an A after many, many hours of sitting in a room watching my Jewish and Muslim classmates slagging each other off was something of a pleasant surprise. I struck two B’s for English, for reading Shane and Walkabout and Lord of the fucking Flies and composing the kind of derivative teenage shit that makes this stuff look like Chaucer. The B for French was the last time I was ever rewarded for my mastery of linguistics, the B in Geography has proved to be of almost no use whatsoever, and the other one in History was surely just a compensation prize for having to sit through some pretty detailed analysis of the Repeal of The Corn Laws: a topic so relentlessly dull it was briefly used as a form of torture in Guantanamo Bay until it was banned by international law for simply being too painful.
The C was for Maths, a subject that mostly mystified me and to this day only serves me in a few (I couldn’t possibly count them) practical ways: chiefly, when watching Countdown or trying to calculate how much money I can piss up the wall without losing sleep at night. My Maths teacher was very patient with me, perhaps because he found me sexually attractive, though if you’ve ever seen a photo of me at the time, or any time, you’d find that hard to believe. Anyway, even he was unable to unlock the complexities, or necessities, of algebra and quadratic equations and so a C was better than I could ever have hoped for. Even the D in Biology wasn’t exactly a disappointment. If I could have avoided taking a science altogether I would have, but such is the way that I had to pick one and it made sense to pick the one I was the least awful at. To this day I flounder when asked to name the reproductive parts of a flower and illustrate how they make love, or to explain what I deduced from dissecting a pig’s trotter or a cow’s eye, other than that they are equally unappetising. Even the human sex stuff was pretty redundant, given I had less than zero chance of getting laid, and so Biology was just an exercise in me sitting in a lab, busily listing all the other places I’d much rather be. And in the end what I gained most from all those exams is that exams really aren’t my cup of tea. All that revision and note-taking and having to remember things that gave me no pleasure at all collectively seems almost perverse to me these days. On the news tonight they’ll have interviewed a few anxious teenagers and asked them how much they’ve fucked up the rest of their lives and how long it will be before they turn to crime full time, while their more successful besties whoop for joy in the background. It seems a shame to base a life on a few numbers pinned to a noticeboard in a corridor, but that’s still the way someone thinks it works. And it does beg the question: surely there must be quicker, less embarrassing way of telling if someone is already a moron and will be until the day they die? Not that I have the answer, I’ve been a moron for years.
G B Hewitt. 25.08.2022