Final year nostalgia

Like a lot of people, I found my final year really tough. I was constantly overworked and underslept and I look back on a lot of it like it was a bad dream. While at the time I was disappointed not to get a First, I now find it remarkable I even made it through the year. Some time during second term, I discovered one of the halls on campus which was weirdly beautiful, miles away from the ugly prison-block halls I had been cramped in during first year. The lake in the middle, filled with swans, had a tree jutting out, with a bench tacked on around it. It was always empty, and for my two final terms it became my favourite haunt. I’d go down there alone and read and write, sometimes doodling, a couple of times catching up on the work that hung over me, ruining these moments of downtime. When it got to summer, other people started to come and sit there, but they didn’t usually stay, perhaps frustrated that I was more stubborn than they were and I wouldn’t move if I didn’t have to. I’ve idealised the space now, when I tried to find images to show the way it really looked, it looked mundane and ugly, a dark and man-made puddle between boring redbrick buildings, but it doesn’t change it for me.

During third term, I bought an ugly notebook I could doodle in. I didn’t get very far, I’ve never been as much of a doodler, despite coming from a family of far more than doodlers. I claim no gift at art, I know it’s about practise, but I haven’t practised and this is no false modesty. I really am not good at drawing. Regardless, I drew this and wrote with it. (Apologies about my fingernails, I can’t find my camera so was forced to use my webcam)

I don’t come down here innocently – movies play through my mind and romanticise my blonde hair that blows around. Rather than flying in my face it should blow about, making me Kathy on the moors. My paper is lined, not the sketchbook I imagine I own, but its crude brother, ring-bound and tatty, expectant for words to be impregnated upon its fair skin, merely providing the vessel for catharsis and musings. Instead, my disappointing drawings and awkward, pretentious logorrhoea grey its pages with the wrong pencil for sketching. To HB or not to HB? I will never be enough, always brimming over with words and rhymes (at my best), rather than the drawings that claim not to but will always want out of me. I will never be the artist’s daughter, I will always be making the wrong meaning, misinterpreting.

I made a promise to myself at the end of university to leave the house every day. I was lucky enough to spend my final year living in a house full of talented and wonderful people, two of which were involved in the production of an opera at the end of our final term. The days after exams finished, then, were strange, a mixture of busy socialising, going from one meeting to another, and days when if I didn’t leave the house I could manage to see no other people all day. But how to fill days out of the house? My love of clothes meant living in a town with not-half-bad-shopping could mean leaving the house daily was pretty dangerous for my bank account. So I tried to find new spaces on campus. Some days it would get to the evening before I would realise I hadn’t kept my own promise and I would pull on clothes and force myself out of the house. One day stands out, I had the novel I was struggling through (who knew a literature degree would make it so hard to read?), my ugly notebook and, thankfully, my umbrella in my bag as I left the house to go back to this bench-lined tree, but as I walked the half-mile to the bus stop, I remember thinking that I was grateful for tights. The sky was a very ominous grey and the street lamps were already on: while it was light, it was darkening and glooming over and surprisingly cold. By the time I got to campus, the rain had obscured the bus windows and made heavy knocking noises on the metal, yet by the time I had got off the bus, the rain was reduced. Still wet enough to make my hair go weird, still wet enough to make the air muggy and bleak, but perhaps not wet enough to justify the umbrella I clutched. Walking to my favourite spot seemed stupid, but I am and was far too stubborn to consider just staying on that bus and going home. If I was out of the house, I was damn-well going to be out of the house. My leather jacket on the sodden steps, I sat down at one of the central points in campus and began to doodle. I drew the space in front of me, and once again decided to write.

Not sure what Monday means. The world walks past, they are in skirts too short and smartest shirts for scoring. Cellulite dimples its way past me, the lone one in opaque tights with my brolly spinning over my shoulder and goosebumps rippling my bare shoulders in a way that should get them too, but fake tan and trowelled on foundation protect them from the elements. The awkward modern building juts in front of me, every pillar and 45° angle rigid and misunderstanding, inappropriate. The floor, littered with beer-branded detritus contrasts those clean lines and stinks of the disappointment that building provided. Others, like me, alienated perhaps by the dolled up, desperate dollies, stroll past, their heads down, perhaps not confident enough to raise an umbrella in what can only be called drizzle.

As I said, final year was tough. These bits of writing seem more bleak now, looking back on them, than they did at the time. I probably just thought I was being perceptive. Finding this notebook was part of a clearing of university things, everything is drenched in nostalgia, ticket stubs clutched and marked with cracked fold lines from being stuffed in pockets during plays, postcards, bought and sent and received and thank you cards, littered with signatures from characters I once understood. But while this notebook seems now to be more grumpy than I’d originally realised, it was lovely finding a note from a friend that I’d forgotten him writing.

Perhaps the most complimentary line of it was him writing “you were… THE OPPOSITE OF BORING”. That sounds sarcastic, but it meant a lot. He was always a lot cooler than me.

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