I first wrote this blog in August 2018 – as the date included shows – but for obvious reasons felt unable to publish at that time.  Now, four months on, I feel that maybe this should be posted.

I dedicate this post to my mother, without whose help and encouragement I would still be living in Burnley and working in a factory.


There are common dates for celebrating that everyone has, or has the chance of having:  birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Christmas, Easter, and many other special events.

There may not be many who every year remember the day when they received their exam results with such bitter-sweet memories as I do.  Thursday 16th August was the day when students around the UK received their A-level results (for those readers not from the UK, the quality of a student’s ‘A-levels’ are crucial in determining which university they will – or will not – attend for their degrees).

There are a few reasons for this.  The fact that it is now 25 years since I passed my A-levels is actually quite frightening.  Where has the time gone?  It only seems like two minutes since I rang the college to find out whether my gamble had paid off.  (I had quit working in the factory in order to take the A-levels:  if I had failed ….)

But the main reason has to be my other memory of that day.  I wasn’t immediately aware at the time, but my mum had left the room when I made the call.  I found her stood in the hall crying.  Relief?   Pride?  She could never fully explain it, although she said that pride was the major factor.  It was only at that point that the enormity of my risk sank in.  Where would I be if I had failed?

As it is, the difference between my life prior to those results and my life following them cannot be over-estimated.  Before, I was working in a factory making kitchen units for fitted kitchens.  I rarely left Burnley, and anywhere further than Manchester was the ‘Great Beyond’.  After, I was having a ‘second childhood’ (second?  Probably more accurate to say third or fourth!) at University, far from the town of my birth and meeting people from all over the world.  Prior, my greatest achievement was to build and fit kitchen units in other peoples’ houses.  After, I had the pleasure of becoming a teacher before turning my hand to writing books on ancient history.  The difference is night and day.  There is no way that I could have foreseen the change in my life that those results would have.

So why ‘bitter-sweet’?  It’s because of the positive effect that day had on my relationship with my mother, which also cannot be over-estimated.  I went from being a ‘failure’ who had ‘unfulfilled potential’ to a man who she was able to boast about to her friends and neighbours.  I would add that when she attended my Masters Degree graduation it was the proudest day we had together.  The second was my becoming a teacher.

Yet these would have been eclipsed by me becoming a published author.  Sadly, Alzheimer’s Disease took her away from us before ‘Belisarius’ was published.  She was never able to fully appreciate either that the book had been published or that she was commemorated in the dedication under her maiden name.  If she cried on results day, how would she have reacted to seeing her name in print in my book?  I’ll never know.

This explains why ‘results day’ will always have mixed associations.

Thankfully, events since have helped to ameliorate the sadness of “Results’ day”.  Twice in the last two decades I had the pleasure of attending results days at schools where I either was or had been a ‘Head of Year’ in that school.  On both days results exceeded expectations and I was able to walk away with pride in my students.  On one of these occasions I was actually interviewed by the Press – my first ever printed words!

It is this mixture of pride and sadness which always recurs every August since I passed my A-Levels.  It is also a reminder that without my mother and her support I wouldn’t be where I am today. So the question, then, is how many people have not fulfilled their potential because they didn’t have their family and friends pushing them?

The moral must be: don’t give up: hold to that dream and do your best to achieve it. Don’t just give up when it becomes difficult. Which reminds me: got to plough on with ‘Constantine’. Not that it’s difficult or anything ….