Friday 14 August 2020

Not getting my A level grades was the best thing ever happened to me!

 Forty two years ago, I went through an experience a lot of young people are having today. I was eighteen years old and I received my grades. I'd been offered a place at a London Uni to study physics. I needed a B and two C's. Despite being dyslexic, I'd overcome most of my problems with education when I left FCHS and went to Orange Hill Senior High. I'd resat several O'levels and ended up with 9, 2 at Grade B and  seven at  grade C. I found that I did better at science subjects, so long as I checked my answers, I could handle the logic and the maths side pretty well. I was fascinated with biology. I did OK at my mocks and was projected a B in physics and C's in Maths and Biology. I wanted to go to a London Uni, because I could keep up the band.

When the grades arrived I was deflated. I genuinely beleived I'd done OK. I got a D in Physics, an E in Biology and an O in Maths. The place was withdrawn. There was much talk that the Thatcher Govt had raised the pass marks, that was my excuse. I felt rather cheated, but in truth I hadn't done the work and I had no real passion for the subject. I saw Uni as a way of deferring doing anything useful for a few years. All I really wanted to do was play music. I had tickets for a gig at Dingwalls the eving I got my results. I don't recall the band. I went with a group of mates, Steve, Paul and Brian. It wasn't busy and we got chatting to two Swedish girls who were on holiday in London. They invited us back to their hotel. I was rather taken with one, and informed her I was planning a visit to Sweden as I'd always been fascinated by the place (a total lie until I met her, but then the absolute truth). She invited me to stay. I said I had a holiday planned for October. I spent the next three months frantically working, saving enough money to subsidise the trip. I found that I was a very hard worker when I had a reason. A friend of mine had a business painting and decorating, so rather than Uni, I threw myself into that, all the time rehearsing and playing with the band. I'd told them that I was going to Sweden to sort the band out a tour. Craig, the other guitarist, accused me of making things up, so I challenged him "If I book it, will you come?". He said "Yes, if it is a proper tour and my fares are paid". So it was agreed.

In the last weekend in September, I left for Stockholm on the train. Due to missing the connection at The Hook of Holland, I arrived 24 hours late. Spending time in Stockholm was the best thing I ever did. I immersed myself in the culture and the vibe. I hooked up with a group of Swedish musicians, who were releasing an album in the new Year. We came up with a cunning plan. We'd hype the False Dots as the next big thing from England. We booked a string of dates, with the Gagget band as support, playing in Sweden and Finland. They were well paid and would cover the costs of the tour and make a profit. All I had to do was borrow some money to pay the up front expenses. 

I acquired a tour van (via my brother who was in the motor trade). We set off, van loaded, two roadies in tow. AS we left Bunns Lane, the engine of the van blew up. We had to be in Felixstow, so we grabbed our instruments and got a mate to drive us there. This meant that we had to hire gear in Stockholm. The actual dates went well. The only real hiccup was at the Underground club in Stockholm. The manager, sensing he was dealing with a naive 19 year old, told me he wasn't going to pay us. The gig had been a resounding success and the club was packed. I am a pacifist, but I had to threaten him with physical violence to get paid. We were in his office and he told me that if I touched him, his bouncers would kill me. I told him that wouldn't do him any good and picked up a large blunt instrument. He said he had to go and get the cash. I knew it was in the office, so I told him neither of us was going anywhere until he paid me. At this the cash was produced and he made a joke of the whole thing, saying he was just pretending. I told him he could give me a glass of his scotch and we sat down and had a friendly chat. I realised why Chuck Berry demanded cash up front at that moment!

By the time we returned to the UK, all the bills had been paid, but I had nowhere near enough to pay off the dodgy loan sharks, who had provided the short term finance. You would be surprised at how quickly £300 can become £2,000 when dealing with such people. The decorating work was becoming

 All I could do was 'pay the monthly interest'. I was too proud to help, but when my Father found out (as the result of an embarrassing doorstep confrontation), the debt was paid. He made me explain how I'd ended up in such a mess. I told him the whole sorry tale of woe. He told me that I had to pay him back £100 a month and work at his garage cleaning cars on a Saturday until it was done.

By this time, I'd met a girl I wanted to move in with, so I needed a job (the studio was simply paying beer money then!). I got a place on the government training opportunities program scheme learning computer operations. At the end of the course in October 1983, I got a job with a top UK software company. I started the same time as their annual graduate intake. Many of these guys have become firm friends. I soon realised that I'd had a far better education of life than they'd had. I'm not sure what job I'd have ended up doing had I gotten my grades, but in terms of life experience, living in a foreign country, touring with the band, learning to deal and negotiate with shysters, working in the building trade with refugees from the Hungarian revolution in 1957, seeing loan sharks in action, all of these things were a priceless education. 

Would I recommend it? There are aspects of it that were dangerous, some were damn right terrifying, but the elation of the good things and the experience of living in a country where the UK was simply another country in Europe was something that has given me a perspective so many people lack. I would always advise a young person to go to Uni if they can. My friends at the IT company had a big head start on me, I had to work very hard for a couple of years to catch up. But if that door has shut, use the opportunity to think of a different plan, one that works for you. What did I learn from my post A-levels period? I learned that I loved to travel, I loved meeting people, I loved playing music in a band. But most of all, I learned that you only work hard. I don't think I'd have learned that doing a physics degree that I had no passion for.

No comments: