If I wasn’t already consumed every moment by anxiety, I would be by now. Even The Guardian had a “Crisis Special!” in its Money section. When The Man’s parents dropped by yesterday evening for tea, pizza, and some draught excluding, his mother casually wondered if the credit crunch was going to impact people’s essential curiosity (actually she’d wondered if it was going to impact the success of TV show/business QI, but as I’d just suggested that the reason such an enterprise works is because of people’s endless craving for knowledge, it was as good as).
If I played a drinking game–one sip for every time the word “crisis” comes up–I’d be pissed before breakfast. If I got a penny for every time, I’d be rich–but that wouldn’t be very credit-crunch-likely, would it.
So, all this in mind, alongside my constant awareness that I am a relatively new adult and, as such, perpetually poor, I volunteered to invigilate the SAT examination yesterday at St. Clare’s. As one of my co-workers put it: “It’s mind-numbingly boring, but by midday, you’ll have made £50.” Every word of that is true.
What my co-worker couldn’t have predicted, however, were the flashbacks. I took the SATs, you see, not so very long ago (although long enough ago for me to have forgotten how many HOURS the process takes), and trapped in a room with fifty-odd teenagers and their No. 2 pencils, it’s impossible not to remember the Dunn School edition of the same exams.
Then, I remember envying the proctors. At least they’re not taking this god-awful test, I thought. Yesterday I would gladly have taken the test. At least they’ve got something to do, I thought enviously of the students. I kept having what I believed to be brilliant wisps of thought, one-after-the-other, but as I had no way to write these thoughts down, they’ve all gone. I’m a writer, not a thinker, you see. To fill the expanses of time, I started coming up with names for the students. I played with my bracelets, my ring, my earrings, and it occured to me that possibly jewlery was actually invented not to adorn women but to give them something to amuse themselves with. I lamented the fact that my new wool tights are a full size too big, and therefore slightly saggy at the knees. I stared deep into the eyes of the two enormous drawings of handsome, well-cheekboned youths, and tried to decipher if the one on the right was a boy or a girl (the lips were all woman, but the nose unmistakably masculine). I got very, very hungry.
When I was taking the same exams at 16, I was as these students yesterday were: nervous and well-behaved. The SATS are designed, I’m convinced, to make pupils so anxious about whether or not they’re filling in the tiny answer bubbles correctly or have written their name down correctly that they forget anything they’ve ever known about reading, writing, and mathematics. “Nervous and well-behaved,” I said to my father when he asked me how the students had been (“Did you catch any cheaters?” he wanted to know, but the closest I’d come was having to tell an especially anxious-looking girl that she couldn’t have her ruler on the desk. “Why not?” she rightly asked, and for some reason, although it would have been completely out of character, I desperately wanted to tell her: “Them’s the rules, sweetheart. Them’s the rules.” Instead, I shrugged and apologized six thousand times.) “Gee, who does that sound like?” he said back.
Nervous and well-behaved. Yep, that was me at 16. For the entire third year of high school, I moved around with tiptoes and whispers. Constantly afraid. I don’t remember taking the SATs; but I remember dreading them. I remember finishing them and thinking, well, thank God that’s done, now I can actually get on with my life. I had stopped caring about my scores long ago–all that mattered was that I put the experience behind me.
Yesterday, I walked out of the testing room enveloped in an early-afternoon gust of wind, cycled into town, and flopped down exhausted next to The Man while we waited for lunch.
“I feel like I’ve just taken a test,” I told him. By evening I was so weary that I didn’t know what to do with myself. To counter my oncoming headache, I went for a run, but it started to rain middway through and by the time I’d gotten home again I was drenched, so I took a bath and finished a particularly mindless book, and ate cold pizza whilst browsing through vintage clothing online. I tried to have a glass of wine, but after a few sips I was too sleepy to go on, and crawled upstairs to wait for The Man to come home from work. Cash crisis. Energy crisis.