A couple of months ago I finally decided to apply for a British passport – and for that you need to pass the ‘Life in the UK’ test. I have been living my ‘life in the UK’ for over 25 years so I felt well prepared. But not so fast. Apparently you have to buy a book. Then you study it. Then you register for the test. Then you sit in a room at a set time with a crowd of others and the test begins. Suddenly I felt a little nervous.
The morning of my exam, I sharpened my pencil, I made sure my fountain pen had enough ink. And I also put a newly purchased ball-point pen into the pencil case. After all, I wasn’t sure what sort of pen we’d be allowed to use, and I wanted to be equipped for all eventualities.
As I cycled down to Islington, in my mind’s eye I saw myself bending over a desk writing my name at the top of a sheet of paper. And at the end of the exam I would clip the sheets together and pass them over to an examiner who would tick the correct answers and then add up the ticks.
I arrived well in time – I was always a good student. I locked my bike and went inside. There were no desks, no examiner, no paper clips, not even any paper. Instead we were shown into a room with rows of computers. The images in my head evaporated into thin air as they were confronted with the stark, technological, reality. What would my son have said? ‘Dah, Mum, which century did you take your last exam in?’ And I would have had to admit that it was indeed in the last millennium.
Exam nerves subsided and full-fledged digital panic took over. What if my computer of all the computers won’t turn on. Or perhaps the machine turns on, but won’t let me access the right programme. Or it turns on, I access the programme, but then it saves my answers wrongly. Or doesn’t save them at all. It might even explode! My heart started racing. My palms became sweaty. And I feared my fingers were too wet to touch the keyboard.
‘Pull yourself together, woman. You are the head of my publishing house. Don’t disgrace yourself – and me.’ This were Peirene’s last words as I left the house that morning. And as always, the Nymph’s words did wonders for me.
The computer did not explode, it let me enter the programme, it saved my answers. And I passed the test.
Back at Peirene HQ, the Nymph greeted me with a clap on the shoulder. ‘Well done, proud of you. Can’t wait to encounter the new, modern, technologically savvy, British you. We will from now on all look to you when the internet doesn’t connect in the office.’