I’ve found my new niche career – bomb disposal technician. Every day, at any given time, no real sequence or pattern as to where the bombs are, the risk of one going off looms large. Nonetheless, I endeavour with perseverance not to cut the wrong wire. Wires are snarled, mangled and all interconnected to a main frame that’s somehow fused to yours truly. Potential triggers include the last slice of ham, my mere presence, the last biscuit, an empty Nutella jar, any comments on hair or make-up – positive or negative – socks, equations, Matt Cooper’s voice, the wrong dinner. Helmet and flak jacket reactions include remarks on states of bedrooms, bicycle punctures, phone issues and one sister taking anything belonged to the other.
Aged 16, I did my first Leaving Cert. Oblivious to its importance. Not a tap was done, apart from English. I used to boldly walk into UCG library, find the requisite books on Shakespeare and Wordsworth, Kavanagh and Keats, transcribe what I could and squirrel away same in the Engineering section in the hope they would be there the following day. Thanks to slightly apathetic library staff, they usually were. Aged 17 I repeated many but not all subjects. I vividly remember the days of this vicious gruelling marathon of exams. The relentlessness of it. The mere sound it. And the scorching hot days. The feeling of hopelessness as those who did well carried out post mortems whilst I walked away, knowing I had made a hames of it. Notions of nailing questions were scarce as hens’ teeth, simply never having the confidence in what I had understood or written. I became better and more self-assured at studying and doing exams the older I got.
Now as parents, in our gaff we are in the throes of one Leaving Cert and two Junior Certs. The house is possessed by exam poltergeists. I say ‘we’ as I feel like I am doing it again. Such is the contagion of stress and tension. At least I can bring the dog for a walk or go for a run to wring out the anxiety that inevitably seeps in and not have to face into an Irish essay or maths problem on my return. Alongside the behemoth workload the ad nauseam talk of careers and points and students needing to know ‘what they want to be’ ratchets up the worry. These same sermons are from those who went to a school, did their HDip in the same school and went back to that school to teach. They never left it. No life experience, no concept of other sectors.
The examinees this week schlep out the school doors battle weary dragging their feet in ‘doobs’ with laces and soles long gone, trousers two inches too short, heads as bedraggled and frayed as their scratchy wool jumpers. Tired eyes, pale faces. Hints as to the level of satisfaction of how the paper went can be ascertained by the speed and ferocity at which schoolbags are fired into boots. Love Island allows for some breathing space. This vile, vacuous programme is an antidote to critical analysis of Lear’s Cordelia and schneaky financial maths questions.
It is hoped that futile efforts to keep things steady by alluding to life being a journey, not to be too hard on themselves, that grades and points are not the measure of them as a person, that this dirty rotten exam is not the be-all and end-all of everything are all greeted with a heavy sigh and a ‘yip’. Old head, young shoulders and all that business. But perhaps these words will percolate somehow, at some level. In the meantime, the walls of the church in Westside are charred with Nana candles. Our three chalk off the exams like prisoners on a cell wall. By 21st June we will have exorcised the demons. This house will be clean. Three years from now we will have not one, but two Leaving Certs, in the house. And so it continues. Meanwhile, on results day August 15th I may be found in any corner, in some random room, manically rocking back and forth eating my hair and talking to myself. The demons just moving on.