Ah, the student life... But if we could do it all again, would we? Could we?
STUDYING doesn’t come cheap. One text book cost a student close to my heart £50.
“50 quid!!!???” I shrieked.
Apparently, it would have been RRP £180, so it was truly a snip.
“Did a monk sit up all night for a year, painting it with a quill feather by the light of a candle,” I wanted to ask.
I’m a second-hand book person who gets her hits from the penny books and the campsite shelf of other people’s reads and the Oxfam shop. Thrift is my middle name.
The fact that my mother is a book lover had an impact on my childhood. I did not appreciate the beauty of her beautiful leather-bound editions of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Mill on the Floss. They had gilt edged pages that were fine and delicate to the touch.
But they never, ever, had the same page numbers as everyone else in the class.
Even today when someone says: “Turn to page 66”, I get a trickle of sweat down the back of the neck and start leafing furiously.
I do remember that back in the day, my own student book list was substantial. But there was a grant and a lot of time to spend reading – arts degrees were four years at least and maybe five if you got a year abroad tucked in.
I headed south to study and the punt was weak against the pound – ha, those were fine times. English literature meant one novel, one play and one set of poems a week over the year.
Oh yes, and you were instructed to acquaint yourself with the King James Bible before you started. I never did... but I would now. “Through a glass darkly” – now that’s poetry for the soul.
Pure gravy it was, only we were too young to know it. You began with the first novels – that was a trudge worthy of Pilgrim and his progress and proceeded, head deep in a book until you reached the heady heights of American Poetic and Philosophic Values.
Personally, I felt like flinging myself off Brooklyn Bridge – yes, the poem of that name did for me – by the end of that course.
Once, there was a 3,000-word essay due in on the poems of William Carlos Williams. This verse involved plums being eaten from the icebox and red wheelbarrows and chickens. There was a whole poetic movement out there – yet for all my 19-year-old self understood, it might as well have been a bowel one.
I have a strong memory of sitting on a trendy brown box outside the dreaded tutorial and sharing my lack of understanding and abject misery with a lovely man who was a mature student. He confessed that he was daunted too. Only he went on to lecture in American poetry while I was stuck out in the hinterland, wading in the muck with the chickens and the darned red wheelbarrow.
And all that is to say that I would gladly hand over a £50 note to go back to those days spent nose deep in a book and drinking sweet draughts of other people’s verse as well as the occasional pint of cider. It was a fun time in between the horrors of linguistics and restoration drama.
We waltzed our way between classes, ate huge slabs of battenburg cake in The Buttery and dreamed dreams of Saturday nights out with the engineers.
Ah, student life. I miss the friendships and the time to talk. I miss the excitement of getting ready for a night out – all that hair removal faff and face painting and the glittery head band, Adam Ant craze.
I miss the post-party moratorium when we sat up til 5am, drinking the dregs of the bottle of Irish cream left over from Christmas, eating somebody else’s sausages from the fridge and solving the problems of the universe.
Would it were ever so.
The years have fallen soft and fast at our heels. It only seems like yesterday since the future was bright and glittering – long on laughter and time to laze and talk and rest.
It’s wasted on the young. You should only get to university when you retire and can properly appreciate the student life. Or so I might tell our boy.
Now students are paying hard for the privilege and slogging in part-time jobs just to keep their heads above water. And you have to ask yourself... Was it all so easy then, or has time rewritten every line? And if we had the chance to do it all again, would we, could we?
(And if that doesn’t ring a bell, you’re far too young).