Tuesday, August 10, 2021


Today is A level results day in Britain and seeing the reports of joy and disappointment always reminds me of the day I got mine. (A levels are the exams students take in order to get into university.) Here is another extract from my book:

Besides, it was not all doom and gloom at those Friday night meetings* and after them we would all go to a nearby café where we drank coffee, ate cake, laughed and joked and talked about other things. I was there the night before my A level results came out and I suddenly started crying because I couldn't control my anxiety about them any longer.

* The meetings were Gamblers Anonymous for Dad and the Gam-Anon group, for family members affected by a compulsive gambler, for Mum and me (once I turned eighteen).


When I heard the postman the next morning, I put my head under the eiderdown and refused to open the envelope which Mum had brought into my room.

It's all right, Pat. You know we're still proud of you, whatever it says.’

But I carried on hiding and eventually she took it in to Dad, who was still in bed.

Well, if you won't open it, I'll have to!’

And a few moments later,

My darling, you've got a place in university!’

I had done it! Despite all that had happened, I had got even better grades than my first choice university, Cardiff (then The University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, to give it its full title) had required. I couldn't believe it because I really thought I had failed everything but then, I always convinced my parents that I would fail every exam I ever took. I had chosen Cardiff not only because the city was known to me through holidays and weekend trips, but because you could study Italian there and they had not required an O level in maths, which I hadn't passed. I wanted to study Italian, along with French, as a change from Spanish. I think ‘La Vida de Lazarillo De Tormes’, which every Spanish student had to study, had finished me off for that subject and now I wanted to learn the language not only of opera, but of some romantic Italian records I had bought. At Cardiff, if you already had an A level language pass, you could do a crash course in Italian which would take you to A level standard and beyond in a term, so that is what I decided to do. I was so happy and even Miss Williams told me I had ‘done very well, considering all that.’

We celebrated and told everyone we knew and soon a reading list as long as your arm arrived so Dad and I were in our element, buying books in Foyles in Charing Cross Road. Our motto was always, ‘Why borrow a book when you can buy one and have it on your shelf?’ Dad's cousin John, Auntie Ethel's son, sent the two enormous volumes of the Harraps French-English and English-French dictionary, considered the best there was and I was delighted to own them instead of having to go to the library to consult them. John, now a university professor in Australia, had visited us often in Bristol when he was at Clifton College and had always encouraged me academically. I also had to have an undergraduate academic gown and, the Hall of Residence list said, ‘a biscuit tin, a mug, instant coffee and a tin of dried milk powder.’ In that first year the friends I made in Aberdare Hall and I drank myriad mugs of coffee laced with the dried milk, which would often turn lumpy, and I have to say it was one of the most revolting beverages that has ever passed my lips.

So, dear students in Britain, I do know how you feel today and if you are disappointed, it is very unlikely to be as bad as you think so explore every avenue because there is always a way - I know this as a teacher.

Exam results at that level of course impact on our dreams and our dreams are often inspired by the stars. Today is also the feast of San Lorenzo and in Italy on the notte di San Lorenzo and on the nights surrounding it we all look for falling stars, which are said to bring luck. Having said that, on the notte di San Lorenzo in 2019 I saw, for the first time, several shooting stars in succession and look how 2020 turned out! However, when I mentioned this to a kind friend earlier today, she said,

"Hey! You wrote the book, you got through a pandemic and you and Bertie (my dog) are well. Maybe those stars worked!"

So there you are - things are rarely as bad as they may seem.

L'âme est pleine des étoiles tombantes - The soul is full of falling stars.

- Victor Hugo

Le stelle cadono senza far rumore per non svegliarci - Stars fall noiselessly in order not to wake us.

- Roberto Gervaso


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