Summer passes and I am, predictably, rejected by all my chosen universities because I only have two A-levels, one of them a bare pass. This is seen by all and sundry, including myself, as awful news. I have a summer job at the carpet department of Fishpools which, as you all now know, is not Selfridges to tide me over, and then I have to decide what to do next.
As the autumn of 1977 arrives I attempt to study History A-level by correspondence course. This is a dismal failure – sitting in my bedroom with the textbooks and tasks they send I just can’t motivate myself. At least I am sensible enough to figure this out by myself and realize that if I’m going to get to university I need to adopt another approach. I have no real idea why I want to go there. It is just expected, although I will be the first in my family to do so. I am hoping English Literature at university will be as exciting as the A-level was. When I finally get there, this turns out not to be the case …
I have a big think, and I decide to go back, tail between my legs, to see my old head teacher Dr Hadley and ask if I can come back to school to pick up the missing A-level. I find myself sitting in his office, talking to him and to the Deputy Head, Mr Bird (a very colourful character but sadly peripheral to the concerns of this blog). I remember this meeting vividly because a very weird thing happens. When I was in the proper Sixth Form, we were not treated like people at all by the ruling classes. I remember the Upper Sixth being kept behind after assembly one morning by Bird, who told us that that the school had decided we were an entire year of underachievers. Honestly – even if you bloody thought it, why would you tell us that? But because I have come to ask them to take me back, even though I am no significantly different from the person who departed three months earlier, I am now to be treated as an adult.
We have a sensible conversation. I suggest doing History A-level, as I had made a (slight) start by myself. Dr Hadley says fine, but to come back I would have to take two A-levels, not one. In a year. He doesn’t say why, and I have no idea why, but he appears inflexible (a not unusual state for him). Any subjects you fancy, he asks? I ponder for a minute. How about Religious Studies, I say? The deal is done.
I am quite interested in RS, despite not having studied it since the third year. Some of my chums did it at A-level and it did sound interesting. We agree a date for my return. In order to do two A-levels I will need to attend Upper and Lower Sixth classes in each. This turns out to be a wacky but not unpleasant experience. The new Upper Sixth are our old Lower Sixth, so I know a few of them. The new Lower Sixth are mostly unknown to me, but I quickly make some good friends among them. Once again, shifting me out of context works wonders – among a fresh group of kids my confidence grows a little bit more. Two other people from my year return – a boy called M– and a girl called SP (need to use initials to distinguish her from S–) who I had a crush on a bit earlier. The three of us support each other and socialize, but we don’t share any classes, we are all doing different subjects.
Only doing two A-levels leads to a quirky timetable. On Tuesday my lessons are over by 10.35 in the morning! Usually I stay and work until lunchtime on Tuesdays, and then go home, fall on the bed and sleep the drool-laden, comatose sleep of the late developing teenager. Some good naps on those Tuesdays.
I am motivated and conscientious, reinvigorated. I turn in work on time, I do well. I find RS fascinating in fact, particularly the stuff about textual criticism of the Bible, authorship of the texts, aprocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, the book Honest to God, the controversies around the Reverend Don Cupitt, the theories of Teilhard de Chardin. Around the same time I read Michael Moorcock‘s interesting take on Jesus, Behold the Man (having first come across a Marvel Comics adaptation). It is to say the least provocative. As with Basil’s English classes, I find Romie Tribe (later Romie Ridley)’s teaching endlessly stimulating. I am aglow with philosophical and religious thinking, loving every minute of it. History is pretty good too, but a lot to learn in a year. I find it fascinating and try hard, but don’t cope quite so well.
I get on particularly well with the Lower Sixth. I have next to no history with them and they are a fun bunch. I manage to restrict my terrifying disco lurching at girls to just the one in the whole year and I manage to make some good friends, including a chap called Colin Dixon who like me, develops a taste for Richard Thompson, although his true musical hero is Paul Kossoff (a fine player, certainly – Colin ‘got him’ before I did). I mention Colin’s name in full in case anyone knows where he is – he moved to the US for a while. I appreciate it’s not an uncommon name, but Colin Dixon formerly of Goffs Oak, anyone? Last time I saw him was at an RT gig in London around the mid-80s, when the support band was The Pogues (although support hardly turned out to be the right word that night).
Basil tries to lure me into the school drama production that year, but worried about my workload, I reluctantly decline. Being in the third year of Sixth Form, facial hair rules are relaxed and so I grow a huge, blokey beard, leading a parent to mistake me for a teacher on one occasion.
Nearly a whole year of extra secondary school passes, mostly happily. I reapply for university, hopeful that I will be able to add two more A-levels to my roster. My transness mostly bubbles under. The end of my teens is in sight, and I have still never had a girlfriend. But this is about to change …