|Bristol’s Wills Memorial Building. I didn’t even go there, I just have a lot of feelings.|
If I needed yet another reminder that I’m no longer a teenager – but instead a half-fledged adult with a full-time job and a pension plan – well, this week, I got it. So smug have I been for the last few months, riding on a wave of sheer relief at finally getting and managing to keep said job, I completely forgot about filling in my tax return (I was technically still self-employed as a proofreader until October 2013). And so last week, I received a delightful letter from HMRC stating that I owed them £100 and a completed self-assessment form. Fair enough, I’m a tit, I’ll fill the thing in, HMRC will scoff in disbelief at how paltry the amount they’re chasing me for is, and we can all move on with our lives.
Hahahahahahaha – nope.
I won’t go into to details, because you’d combust with boredom, but you know the Black Books scene where Bernard tries to do his accounts and ends up making them into a smart-casual jacket? That’s not comedy, that’s a documentary.
DB and I have just got back from a very brief visit to [my future home] Bristol, where he spent his student days, and next week, I’m going with my brother to an open day at the University of Birmingham. My current mood is therefore uni-nostalgic – heartily so. I could totally go back to that halfway house between adolescence and adulthood, and spend another three years – and a few thousand pounds – on books and library time and endless essays. That would be much better than work – wouldn’t it?
I don’t really want to go back, of course. It would involve a PhD, and regular contact with academics and aspiring academics, and it’s hard to say which of the two groups is worse. I like being able to step out of work-mode every evening at 5.30; I like being able to leave my office-self at my desk on a Friday, and practically skipping home because the weekend is finally within reach. You don’t get to do that as a student; you’re constantly thinking about your current assignment, the reading you’ve not done, and what in the name of Christ you’re going to do with the qualification once you’ve got it. It’s a 24/7 gig, academia, and I don’t have that dedication. (I’m going to be a lousy parent, it seems.)
I’m nostalgic for the student lifestyle – I didn’t think I would be, being the sort of person who has a proper Freak-Out if she doesn’t have her weekends planned out down to the minute. But if I could go back now, I’d do it properly. I’d go all out; I would work the student cliches to their very bones. I’d read prodigiously, I’d write – not poetry, mind, no-one can tolerate a student poet – and I’d hang out with the most earnest, pretentious fellow students I could find – the militant feminists, the strident socialists, the opinionated and the insufferable. Why? Because when else are you surrounded by so many ill-thought-out but loudly and passionately defended opinions? I’d get into politics and history and Russian literature – because I would have the time.
And really, that’s what I miss: the time. I did English and Linguistics – they’re not exactly heavy on the contact time. And like almost every other 18-21 year old doing an arts degree, I didn’t realise what a glorious gift those free hours and days were. The time spent drinking, hungover or killing time with my university boyfriend and his housemates could have been spent reading – absorbing all the knowledge and opinions my little head could handle.
I’m aware I’m romanticising the student life, looking back at it from a distance of over three years (my MA doesn’t count, as I was quietly miserable for most of that year). The reality of it was different to how I’m remembering it now, and the second year of my degree was actually pretty grim. It can be a lonely life, and the support for students experiencing mental health wobbles is patchy at best.
So perhaps I don’t want to go back. While I may have far less free time now – fewer hours to read, and write, and figure out what I think – at least whatever time I do have is mine alone. The trick is to spend it well.
Our drive back from Bristol involved some of this, and some of that.