Being shot out of a circus cannon into a vat of starving elephant leeches; going over Niagara falls in a biscuit barrel; or packing fish in a remote Alaskan aircraft hanger - there are few places I’d less like to be than sitting in an exam, waiting to turn over my question paper. I still get nightmares about exams that wake me with a gasp, covered in cold sweat, my bowels turned to Nesquik.
Exams were the come-down hangover after a year of giddy abandon. In the desperate last two weeks, we’d try gulp in all the knowledge that should have been seeping into our brains throughout the year- the mental equivalent of sucking the Encyclopaedia Britannica through a garden hose.
A year’s Art theory notes weighed in at about 4 stone. Trying to learn it all would be like trying to eat the phonebook, scrunched page by scrunched page, mouthful by mouthful. So, we learned spots: rote essays based on a specific questions- about as dicey as Russian roulette.
Fluffy toys were popular. There was a certain type of track-suited Pringle girl who’d bring the entire cast of Watership Down to exams, and line them on the desk like a mute row of Duracell bunny cheerleaders. We preferred rubbing The Fat Guy with the Beard’s beer belly before we left the African Street digs. This brought mixed results.
Into the Breech
An exam was like running a marathon in longhand. Four essays in three hours, that would leave your brain like a squeezed out toothpaste tube, and your writing hand cramped into a claw.
I remember sitting in Alec Mullins Hall, like a massive typing pool of inmates, an assembly line of higher learning.
Exams are pretty much like any other life trauma:
Denial: (Turning question sheet over and over) “Fucking hell! Surely there’s one question I studied up on?”
Anger: “Bastards! Who the fuck reads an entire Nadine Gordimer?”
Bargaining: “Okay, maybe I should just answer one essay question. I’ll crack it, and they’ll overlook the three blank ones.”
Regret: “Maybe not reading the Nadine Gordimer wasn’t such a hot idea”.
Acceptance: “Fuck it, I know there’s an hour left, but I’m handing in this piece of shit and getting out of here. I need a cigarette, and one or twenty Black Labels.”.