I got my A Level results 13 years ago this week. I also got 3 A grades. However, I was one of only about three or four people at my college to do so. I always hated those people who said exams are getting easier when I was taking exams. However, a decade watching my own academic achievements being dwarfed by a bunch of spotty Herberts who just turned up and wrote their own name starts to stick in your craw. I guess it's one of the most inevitable features of getting older, like nasal hair or prostate cancer.
On the first day of my A level courses, one of my teachers explained that an A level was one part what you are taught but, equally, one part stuff you have to research and discover off your own back. Even as a 16-year old who thought they knew everything but actually knew nothing, I suspected that this was a lie. And so it proved to be. I tried it out once. A scientific test. I spent days in libraries researching my first Sociology essay, which proved to be so exceptional I got a letter of commendation from the Head. Fuck all that. Especially when it turned out that I could get grades just as good writing essays on the floor in front of CBBC.
I increasingly wonder, though, if there was something in that initial claim. It's just that the things you ought to discover aren't in books. They are friends, drink, drugs, fun, life. Doing the bare minimum to get through at an acceptable level is all very well and good. But for someone like me it also meant shutting off entirely when everything you needed to do was done.
They say you shouldn't have regrets. But I do. I didn't really start to find out who I was or who I could be until I was 24 years old. Up until that point I was (by my own choice and actions alone, mind you) insular, shy and friendless. The potential was all in there. People don't change - witness the fact I still had those results in the photograph, from the day itself, to hand. In the end, I got 3 A grades and all I ended up with was this lousy missed opportunity.
You can't go back. Ultimately, it was for the best, because without things turning out the way they did I'd not be so lucky as I am now, to have nice friends and a nice life. But things could have been nice then, too. The most important thing I should have learnt at college was the only thing they don't teach you.