1 February 2015

The end of student life

Student university life is a potent and necessary experience, but it is ephemeral.

I left university in 1983. Nearly a decade later in 1992, I found myself with time on my hands to do some thinking and realised that the emotional introspective life of our our university years had given way, for most of us at least, to an angst-ridden, time-conscious, but more focussed existence.

Back in 1984, in an act of catharsis while unemployed in bedsit land, I had written the novella University Years, which had sought to portray and parody student university life. And nine years later, still with a manual typewriter, I found the time to type up the the scattered and scrappy manuscript. While doing so, I was reminded repeatedly of the contrast between our current attitude to life and to each other, which we now experienced as young people approaching thirty, and how we had seen the world at the beginning of the the 1980s as students at Exeter University.

At the time it seemed impossible to complete University Years and ignore the extent to which our lives and outlooks had changed. So to give effect to this point, I planned to make all the events in University Years a flashback, and begin the novella with a scene showing my character Martin’s current married life as a university academic, a man who is now anxious, pushed for time, and put out by the inconvenience of meeting up with Brian, his former university friend and housemate. I wrote a new beginning for the novella and then dumped the idea, mostly because I did not want to fundamentally alter the original text written in 1984.

The planned opening of the novella, a mere 351 words, written subjectively form Martin’s viewpoint, is below. The chapter would have been entitled: Anxiety: meeting Brian.

How quickly he went downhill after leaving university.

I received a letter from Brian this morning. It’s bothered me all day at work because I can’t think why Brian should want to see me. He said he’d have to drive up from Surrey after work a week next Friday. He can spend the night here, of course, but why does he want to contact me after all this time? We left university over ten years ago now, and apart from the funeral the following year, I haven’t seen him since. All we do these days is exchange Christmas cards; we’ve even given up writing short letters on them. I suppose we don’t have much in common; he’s a solicitor and I’m a university lecturer. He has children and I don’t.

I’m not sure that I want to get involved with Brian again. I’ve got so much on – my third year course on East European politics. My European politics post grads are causing me to work like hell at the moment. I want to finish the paper on the history of Czech/Slovak relations for next month. I’m bogged down with marking.

It can’t be money he wants, and surely he wouldn’t come to me on account of his marriage. I’m not sure he’ll get on with Myra. We’ll have to do a shop for two formal meals. Brian is coming on Friday the fifth, and Ruth and Ivan are coming on the Saturday.

At least Myra is preparing some food this evening.

I’ve grown attached to this room in our house, which is now my office. I’ve got so much paper here, and I need a second filing cabinet. I also need to put bookshelves in that other alcove on Saturday. The carpet is almost worn through between the word processor and my writing desk.

Myra has just called me downstairs to eat. I wonder how her teaching went today. We’ll eat, have a coffee, do the washing up together, and then I really need to get back to work. I also need to let Brian know that he can stay here.

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