Just days before I sat my A-levels, my boyfriend at the time bought me a silver locket for my birthday.
Smitten as only a teenager can be, I barely took it off for months, which meant I wore it for almost every single one of my exams – almost.
While I thought German and maths had gone swimmingly, there was one exam – English literature – which I was convinced I had entirely messed up. I can’t even remember now what was on the paper, just that whatever I had written in response to the questions was terrible. Absolute gobbledygook.
Due to study English at university, I went into a blind panic and started researching alternative courses – and careers.
Yet when the results came in, it turned out I was wrong. I had aced English. But in the German paper, which I had been far more confident about, I missed my predicted grade by just a few per cent.
I couldn’t believe it. I kept staring at the results slip in disbelief. How could this be? There could be only one explanation. The silver locket. On the morning of the German exam, I had been in a rush: I had forgotten to put on the locket. Yet, during the English exam, even though I thought I had performed badly, I had been wearing it. Simple.
That locket became my lucky locket. Even after the boyfriend and I had long parted, I dug it out every time I had a university exam, or an important presentation to make in a tutorial.
It was no longer anything to do with him – I had since met the man who would become my husband – but the necklace had became a symbol of my academic success: a lucky talisman, if you like.
I am not usually a superstitious person, but the idea of sitting another exam without that locket hanging round my neck was inconceivable.
This week, it emerged that the England football team have taken a selection of lucky mascots with them to the European Championships in France. Manchester United player Chris Smalling has been spotted lugging a large stuffed toy lion around – one of three lions (geddit?) apparently handed out to team members for the tour.
However, a lion is not the most bizarre item to be attributed with lucky properties.
A former colleague remembers a lucky frog which sat on her desk during all of her Higher exams – which she subsequently lost.
“I would’ve been so much more successful in life if I hadn’t lost that frog,” she still muses now, aged 36.
Meanwhile, another friend keeps an Early Learning Centre tortoise she used as a good luck charm during her GCSE exams more than 20 years ago on a shelf in her bedroom.
“I have no clue why I thought he was my good luck mascot, but I freaked out before my last exam because I thought I’d lost him,” she recalls. “He’s hidden behind a photo in my room now, but I still know he’s there.”
Meanwhile, a fellow journalist has a pair of lucky bright blue socks she dons every time she knows she is likely to have a tough day at work – it began when, by coincidence, she was wearing the garments during a particularly stressful time. She got through it and began to associate the socks with good luck. Another drinks a glass of milk and eats a banana before any major event – a snack which became a ritual after she realised she’d done so before a particular exam she performed particularly well in.
Lucky charms date back centuries, from when people believed that certain objects carried an actual magic about them, a theory perpetuated into the early part of the last century by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – the most well-known of the occult groups to emerge in the late 1800s – and one with connections to Irish poet WB Yeats.
That group believed fervently in talismen, which are objects touched by magic to bring luck or protect the wearer from harm.
A Romanian friend tells me her mother in law used to throw a shoe at her whenever she had to sit a big university exam, apparently a guaranteed way of creating luck, according to folklore; while another pal, a musician, has to use a specific scented handcream before a big concert to bring herself luck – before being forced to wash it off so that she can play the piano without her fingers slipping on the keys.
My friend Christina has her grandfather’s school sports medal, which she has taken to exams, driving lessons and job interviews, while another friend took a tiny owl toy she uses for good luck into the delivery room when she gave birth to her daughter. Perhaps the most uplifting is a technique used by my friend Emily, an anaesthetist in a busy hospital, who, in the style of Holly Golightly, dons diamond earrings and a dab of Chanel Number 5 in a bid to ward off a stressful night shift. It works without fail, apparently.
While the England squad’s lions are a cute idea, the team’s choice of mascots seems somewhat contrived. For a mascot or lucky charm to mean anything, there should usually be some kind of story or connection behind it which makes it, well…lucky – even if it is just the blind belief that there is something about that object or ritual which brings good luck.
In this case, the England squad appears to have made a bulk order from Amazon. But each to their own.
As for my own lucky charm, I thankfully no longer have to sit exams, so have had little need for it for the past 15 years or so.
However, if I did suddenly decide to relaunch my academic career, I’d have to search the bottom of my jewellery box to see if it is still kicking around somewhere.