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Punting, whilst waiting for the results of finals day

At this time of year many schoolchildren and university students are facing public examinations that may affect their future careers.

It is a time I remember clearly.

My final exams at Cambridge vet school were the culmination of nine years of effort. To fail at this last obstacle would be catastrophic.

I had made the decision to try for vet school before sitting my O levels at the age of fifteen. This had meant that I had to achieve top marks in my Os and then A levels, and pass the Cambridge entrance exam. Then every year of the six years in vet school we were examined on what we were learning, but finals was a field day for the examiners – nothing was off limits.

My friends and I barely saw each other in those weeks in May, except when we queued up outside vast unfamiliar examination halls, gripping our pens. The horror of messing up was visible on each taut, pale face.

The last exams were the vivas. A face to face verbal test involving three examiners, all vets, including one stranger from another vet school. I had to wait hours for mine, but at last the quivering was over and I could attempt to unstick my dry tongue from the roof of my mouth and explain myself.

Gradually a crowd of vet students who had completed their exams formed outside on the grass. Afterwards I joined them, knowing we still had hours more to wait to discover whether we were about to be admitted into the profession we had strived so hard to join or not. The waiting was a different agony.

Someone suggested we all go punting.

About six of us agreed, and we sloped off to town to hop onto the River.

We were all exhausted. We had studied into the small hours every night for so long that having nothing to do so suddenly seemed odd. There was very little talk or excitement. Nothing mattered until we knew the results.

We sagged back onto the cushions, hands trailing overboard, bodies and mind at last resting, gradually allowing all the stress to float away as so many Cambridge students must have done before us.

Fortunately for me, when the results were posted, they were positive, and I have strived to be an asset to my profession ever since.

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