By the time it was time to leave school I surprisingly ended up with nine ‘O’ levels. I’m not blowing my own trumpet here; they were fairly average Grades: two As, a couple of Bs, and the rest were Cs. The As were in History and RE. I put the A in RE down to the Bible being all stories and parables, and I liked the poetical type verses (and perhaps my undercover childhood reading of the New Testament had not gone amiss either). At the time I found RE more interesting than English Lit (for which I got a Grade C), but having said that I did take English a year early. Much later, I decided to focus on English Lit at degree level, well I say ‘focus’ but my undergraduate degree was actually Joint Honours English Lit with Physical Education. The trouble with me is that I tend to get enamoured with whatever subject I’m studying at the time; such that during my A levels I had a love affair with Sociology and also a brief fling with Psychology (despite the nobby teacher). However, when push came to shove I plumped for English Lit, and I think this was because at a theoretical level it encapsulates all of the aforementioned: Marxist/socialist/psychoanalytic/theological/feminist, whatever takes your fancy really.
Anyway, nobody had planned on me getting so many ‘O’ levels. No one in my family had passed exams before. When the careers advisor had asked me what I wanted to do I said I wanted to win Wimbledon, but I knew this wasn’t really an option as we didn’t have the money. I was mad on Wimbledon as a child. Every year I used to make a scrapbook by cutting out pictures of the players and interviews from the newspapers. I remember how excited me and mum were watching Virginia Wade on the telly win the ladies title in 1977; the same year as Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee. I used to play tennis with my aunty in the park that was behind the factory across the road from our house. There were two hard, tarmac tennis courts. For a small fee you could play for an hour, or for as long as you liked if nobody else was waiting. Apart from that I used to spend hours practising by myself by hitting a tennis ball against the end factory wall from the car park. I was thrilled when I bought myself a proper metal framed tennis racquet from the sports shop with my birthday money.
So, strictly speaking I didn’t have a career path and when school ended I had no idea whatsoever what to do next. A couple of school friends had got jobs in offices, but I knew I didn’t want to do that. A few others were staying on at school in the sixth form to do ‘A’ levels, so I thought I might as well do that. At the time I had a part-time job at a local petrol station, where I worked a few evenings and weekends. I also was doing a lot of baby-sitting for relations and neighbours, which was a good little earner, so I wasn’t short of money at all. My parents were alright with me staying on at school as I contributed a bit of money towards my board and I was quite self-sufficient.
To cut a long story short: