Tropical storms in Clearing Week

20th September 1996 at 01:00
My daughter was on the phone to Granny. "Well I did get 10 GCSEs at grade B and above," Libby was saying, tartly. I'm sure Granny was urging her to do her very best in her A-levels exams.

"Take no notice," I mouthed. My only concern was that Libby was working too hard to meet the demanding offers she'd got from over-popular universities.

We flew off on holiday, ordered some flowers to coincide with the results and remembered to call.

Libby couldn't come to the phone. Her sister told us. She'd scraped through two A-levels and failed the rest.

I lay wide awake in our rattan bungalow, the South China Sea having for once failed to lull me to sleep. My mosquito net hung like a shroud over the future.

Why weren't we at home to support her? Would she feel pressurised into any old course? Media studies somewhere unspeakable with a lecher hauled back from retirement to take up the slack?

Would she give up education altogether and get a job in a bank wearing a colour co-ordinated outfit and a smile to launch a thousand overdrafts?

Had she been wrong to choose wacky A-levels at a tertiary college when she could have continued in traditional subjects at her grammar school? Aren't exams an anachronism? Don't they just favour the lucky and quick-witted?

Hope died along with the fan and the electricity as I struggled through the fever of an Asian night.

I resisted the temptation to wake my husband and ask what message he'd sent with the flowers. Anything too effusive might underline the surprise and disappointment.

How was Granny's tact bearing up? The year before she'd sent our elder daughter a card to celebrate better grades with the message, "Never mind. " Perhaps we'd been too laid back but nothing seemed broke so we didn't fix it.

I phoned home at first light. Would it be over-dramatic to offer to come home?

Ominously, the line wasn't engaged. I braced myself for the fact that her voice might sound small and lost on the other side of the world.

"Oh hi!" she drawled. "How's the weather?" "Tropical."

"Thanks for the flowers. Lilies. Very funereal."

"What are you going to do?" "Natalie's coming round."

"About next year?" "Sorted. York have offered me a place on a similar course."

"York what?" "University."

I sway weakly.

"Well, that's very good isn't it?" "I've had a better offer. Combined studies in London."

I struggle to remember London and slide on to the cool tiles of the hotel foyer.

"Brunel, actually. I've been to check it out. You'd love it. Monsoon. Gap. Laura Ashley, On the Thames. Wicked."

"How did you get there?" I closed my mind to the thought of her driving on the motorway for the first time.

"Well, this guy phoned. He's looking for well-rounded people to study the 20th century and, well, I did get 10 GCSEs at grade B and above."

Linda Pagett is a primary teacher living in Devon

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