Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Going retrospective. VERY retro, actually - six years ago.

All right! I will now go a little retrospective because I feel like speaking of my introduction to higher education. When I first went to university, I was offered an accommodation which I can’t say seemed particularly spacious, but given the extraordinary and exhilarating sense of freedom that came with first going to university, I was feeling rather jolly in that nut. How snug. Alongside the bed-sheets, the only thing I’d been given was a leaflet detailing the basic rules and info of college life. Mostly this consisted in a list of the most absurdly obvious stuff you can imagine unless you need to be told that you can’t gut fish over your carpet or make Molotov bombs with your toilet paper, but it came alongside an invitation to a ‘Welcome Event’ organised by the literature department for new students on the next day. Unlike the leaflet, this rather piqued my interest. I make myself some dinner and go to sleep, already looking forward to being welcomed by the poet laureates.

The next day, I step outside of my block feeling hip and jocky. Due to the fact that I am new to the responsibilities of living alone, I walk out so early that I might as well have been riding an eight-hundred year-old donkey on a wheel-less skateboard for all the time it awards me. Since I can afford to take a walk, I opt to see what the university looks like before going to this protoplasmic event. There are a field and a lake close by, so I take a detour to my left and walk right into the high grass, amid the buzzing insects and the crisp, sparkling air. I am beginning to feel like Wordsworth.

As I turn by a small rising, I find myself face to face with a bloody horse. This sends my rural Romantic identifications quite to hell. It’s not that I’m scared at the idea of moving on, but the horse happens to be staring at me – not even chewing or anything, it just stands still like some horse from The Exorcist. For some retrospectively unfathomable reason, this is a more disquieting experience that it seems – the horse is standing in the fields much like a vulture would be sitting on a tree, not in the sense that it bobs its head or anything, it just makes you wish he would sod off.

I turn away from the intently ocular horse and head off in a different direction: I am going towards some trees. I become engrossed in the walk until I look at my watch and figure it’s about time to start heading towards the literature department. That’s when I look about me and realise I have no idea as to where the fuck I’ve walked into. There’s trees and stuff and all the university buildings look kind of far-away, like the place where ducks migrate to in the distance or something. I see a girl walking towards them like a nymph emerging from the woods and I decide to follow her (much like a duck would have done when forming a ‘V’ around a leader – the parallel is regaining Wordsworthian tinges). She obviously thinks I’m stalking her because after a few minutes she accelerates her pace like a trotting pig and I begin to lose her. By the time she’s almost jogging I’ve reached the buildings themselves so I can stop the cardiovascular pursuit, and with the help of some indications by a bunch of Korean students, I find the event.

This proves to be even more intimidating than that bloody horse. There’s groups of people chatting amid themselves, seemingly arranged in such a way as to give their back specifically to me. Not a single person ‘welcomes’ me. I walk up to the table where some food has been arranged and pick up a light cake-ish thing – in reality I am not feeling particularly hungry, it’s just that sweet stuff has the quality of making me instantly peckish and this pastry looks like it might have some chocolate inside. Instead it’s full of goddamn salmon. I don’t really like fish, so once I’ve taken the bite I reluctantly swallow it and start looking for somewhere to throw away the rest. Fancy that, I can’t find one. So I’m walking around randomly holding this piece of open salmon pie in my hand, when I meet a Greek fat guy who is alone like myself. I say hello, and we initiate a conversation. Things are beginning to get smoother. A little bit of alcohol and we’d be goading like gods.

After a few minutes of chat, we come to the subject of the fish. I am bearing it around like a disciple of Jesus following Him around Mount Sinai, so the heir of the Spartans points me to a bin a short distance behind me. I thank him and tell him I’ll be right back, then I head off to dispose of my unwelcome marine companion. I am less than two steps away from the bin when I am suddenly faced not with a horse this time but with an old lady who is bearing a whole tray of those salmonic balls. ‘How are you, dear?’ she asks, obviously taking pity on my loser status. Of course I can’t bin the fish in front of the same old woman who’s bearing it, so I reluctantly put it in my mouth and swallow it. Christ is it gross. I swear they’ve managed to cram an entire fucking salmon into one of these balls, they are so impossibly dense. I turn my head to see what the Greek fatso is doing (and to keep my grimace from being too apparent), but the son of a bitch has seen me castled with the old woman and he has taken it as a starter’s signal to chat up two young girls over in his corner. I turn back to Miss East Anglia 1938. She tells me that she is the Dean’s wife, and I know now that I will never get her off me.

This could be you.

I am saved by some senior professor who gets up to make a speech as general conversations are broken and all attention is diverted towards the centre-stage. It is then that I discover that the longer a professor spends within academic circles, the goofier the individual in question becomes. This man had obviously been in the field for the past three centuries since his general appearance was less that of a luminary of the arts than that of a dazzled mop-stick held for twenty-two years in an amusement park for kids to throw balls at – except that he was not funny for jack. He stuttered and repeated himself and gesticulated like a windmill. How these people can seem attractive to young female students is, I think, a wonder without parallel in the human race. Seeing this also kind of deters you from pursuing an academic career yourself. I mean, if that’s what twenty-five years of teaching does to you, then frankly I’d sooner take up employment as a gladiator.

As it soon turned out, the professor was going to be my tutor for the classes on modernism. I probably wouldn’t be speaking about him at all if it weren’t for his habit of writing on the board without looking at it in an attempt to show off the fact that he can note down important vocabulary while simultaneously talking to us about another subject. But as any elementary mind could tell you, something thus conceived is always destined to become an enormous cock-up. Halfway through the writing he forgets what it was he was jotting down because he is so taken up with his speech and he leaves the words half undone, and if he doesn’t, his words become so long that they start running into and over each other, but of course he doesn’t notice because he is looking at us instead of the board. Once he put my academic qualities seriously to the test when wanting to write under ‘winter’ from Eliot’s Wasteland the word ‘oracular,’ but he bent the ‘o’ into a ‘b’ and left the word off after the ‘a,’ thereby writing ‘bra’ in relation to Eliot’s desires in what appeared to us to have been the greatest Freudian slip in the history of academia. Personally I was sticking my pen into my ribs to keep myself from laughing even as I felt like a five-year-old for giggling at something so idiotic. As for the point the professor was making, no-one managed to follow a fucking thing.

In fairness to the guy, despite his resemblance to C3PO he really was the most excellent of tutors, and for all of his delivery skills, his speech felt very warm and welcoming. I spent the rest of that meeting finally socialising with some of the people there and exchanging numbers. I went back to my room and allowed myself to sink into sleep as I pondered on how to start calling these people the next day.

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