27 days

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I remember when the word University looked like a big mountain and

I
was
a
wee
pebble.

I remember when you shouted me into doing this degree after looking at all the Linguistics books I’d borrowed from the Central Library in Edinburgh.

I remember emancipation from music school, a place that flung me into the sky, to blissful, heavenly heights, and threw me back down onto the ground.

I remember how desperate I was to break away from school and everything I used to do, to the point where I was convinced – encouraged to believe – and not entirely by my own hand, that I should change my image and even my own name, for the second time; because having an unusual Chinese name would be an oral obstacle to professional networking and to becoming a success.

I remember during the summer before the great move I had researched, extensively, all the societies I considered joining, even emailing some of them in advance in order to indicate and validate my existence as an enthusiastic, energised new student ready to make her mark in the student community and all that yada-yada.

I remember the day I moved out of home. We packed many, many bags into the car. I had curled my hair with rollers the previous night and my locks had scooped into curls that bounced like the dancers in the flirty fifties. I remember picking utensils from the kitchen in the old house; we were very selective of the number of knives, forks, chopsticks, plates and bowls. My spatula was made of pink rubber with a stainless steel handle. The chopping board was grass green.

I remember my bedroom window which looked out onto Walworth Road, one of the busiest that branched off the Elephant and Castle Roundabout, and the din it vomited onto my bed. I don’t think I ever slept a still night, even with earplugs in and a body shattered by stupid stress.

I remember the students I shared the apartment with. Barely though. I haven’t seen them in nearly 3 years.

I remember one night I woke up to my radiator rattling against my wall to the rhythm of my neighbours’ ferocious f***ing.

I remember going to one of those awful, fanatically publicised Fresher Party Nights at the Ministry of Sound, where there was no room to stay sane or escape their awesome galactic sound system. There was a boy who kissed me like a leech.

I remember Induction Day at Law School: The biggest congregation of terrified young people I’d ever seen forced to sit in a dingy basement lecture hall and listen to a stream of speeches as long as the Nile, from the Dean, who told us how he met his future wife during his induction week, to the student Law Societies jazzing up their manifestos and milking their events.

I remember the girl I sat beside, my first law school friend. We had lunch together that very day which was incredible because nobody knew anybody at all and I didn’t know who to speak to.

I remember one German exchange student asking whether it was necessary to study English Public Law, which made everyone laugh. He still managed to exude intelligence, wit and flair. We fell into the habit of calling each other mother and son because he was inspired in part by my resemblance to an elderly lady.

I remember feeling small in a lecture hall of hundreds. The biggest class I’d ever known was 36, and that was when I was 7 years old; and at music school the most I had to handle was a group of 13.

I remember being that painfully keen student who carried too many things lectures, including – but not limited to – folder, textbooks and on most days a ridiculously heavy violin case and a lunch box. How silly I must have looked and how sore I must have felt.

I remember the hurricane in my head which bled out of not knowing what choices to make, what books to buy, which events to attend. I did not know how to direct my mind and body.

I remember that asshole of a Criminal Law Lecturer who’d single students out arriving late to class and handpicked his favourites from the trembling crowd. His regard was like a black raven and his head moved like one too; it moved to speak and stimulate controversial debate, and smile and sneer, but the face never followed the mouth and the glare never crumbled in his eyeballs.

I remember the terror of the first essay we were given which seized my entire body like a totalising foot cramp. How do I write an essay, my stomach cried.

I remember one of my first tutorials in which the teacher asked us the classic ‘Why did you choose law?’ line and someone answered, ‘For the money,’ and everyone else was silent and terrified of their own stories of forced choice, desperation, economic motivations…

I remember how people recognised each other from classes but didn’t bother to socialise because they felt too awkward and pressed for time when eating lunch or walking down corridors.

I remember feeling intimidated by the students who had pre-existing friendship groups: the Frenchies, the Germans, the Hong Kongers, the Singaporeans. It was high school cliques all over again.

I remember being shy to speak in class and tasting on my tongue and lips the desire to impress others by portraying myself as the ultimate committed and engaged student who puts her hand up to ask questions or challenge the views of our respected professors; because that’s what university is for to learn how deliver critical, diverse and controversial opinions which will develop our brains in such a way as to make us into the future, global leaders and life-changers of the generation, even though we don’t know what the hell we are talking about.

I remember agonising over student debt and trying to budget my expenses even though I didn’t know how.

I remember the terror of the great London and the throbs of demonic machines.

I remember my Fresher freshness and spirit which flung me into a vortex of frenzied over-participation.

I remember thinking that I could do everything and still be able to walk and smile, because self-promotion and exhaustion was worth it if I could just have that one extra worthwhile experience or opportunity to meet new people.

I remember staying in the library all day trying to read and understand what this type of studying was meant to involve. It was early in the term and I still cracked and wept to the sound of Carole King – her maternal words, her motherly music.

I remember my first meeting with my personal tutor, during which I cried out my stresses. My God was she patronisingly sweet and stubbornly unaware of laughing at inappropriate times in the conversation.

I remember going to Law Firm Open Days in the big, big City with their shiny, shiny floors and windows so clean you could kiss them all day.

I remember going to CV and interview workshops because you had to prepare yourself as soon as possible for the job market, even though you’re only 18 and just out of school.

I remember wondering deep down whether I was able to vocalise, genuinely or not, an interest and commitment to developing my ‘commercial awareness’.

I remember going to a nightclub in Temple and heading home around 4am feeling spectacular.

I remember very lonely nights and much lonelier days.

I remember receiving suicidal messages but not knowing what to do apart from sit in an empty classroom and call the police.

I remember the horror of 1st year mock exams consuming my little mind and the self-damnation I inflicted on myself for never getting a first in my essays.

I remember the crispness of freedom after the first year of Law School exams. We took them in a huge tin located in East London Zone 3 which housed pigeons that flit and flapped around and about, and had a great backing track of aeroplanes taking off from London City Airport.

I remember 2nd year; it was distinct because entering it was like walking through treacle.

I remember most of 2nd year being a blur because it’s hard to see when you’re lost in a bucket of treacle.

I remember buying my first ever bike and learning how not to die on the London roads; some days, when nature slapped a rainstorm onto your face, it was like swimming through treacle and mashed up Starburst sweets.

I remember being on a Student Committee and staying up till 5AM on some nights to locate errors in the HTML coding of our newsletter because that was what I was responsible for.

I remember imagining myself as a barrister and making a conscious effort to explore this realm of the legal profession only to accept that that was not to be.

I remember practising violin for hours and hours in my tiny box room in London Bridge but not really listening to anything I was doing.

I remember buying lots of cheap student tickets to concerts at the Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican Centre.

I remember my first time at Shakespeare’s Globe, the Summer of 2015, for a performance of The Merchant of Venice, and the pollen of the season tickling the skin inside and underneath my eyes.

I remember the tremendous effort required to learn and open my ears to Tort Law and Property Law, only to forget everything a day after the exams. Only Property Law has been of some use in everyday life where landlord and tenant issues float up here and there; those landlords are never going get away with shit when I’m around.

I remember getting a 2:2 in Property and a 1:1 in Law and Social Theory and wondering why I ever chose to eat gruel over pretty pastries.

I remember the summer after 2nd year I had a bout of jet-setter fever and hopped several continents before landing at last in Strasbourg for my ERASMUS.

Oh

how I remember Strasbourg.

I remember breathing with my lungs for the first time.

I remember feeling paralysed and sick and the only things I felt like doing were writing and reading.

I remember teaching myself how to practice and hold the violin.

I remember kissing many many faces young and old, more than I would have kissed if I were elsewhere.

I remember when final year looked like the peak of the mountain and I was still barely halfway up and still had all the time in the world.

I remember the final journey back to London and how much I cried. I sat in Gare de L’Est and an American family gave me their packet of tissues.

I remember resenting the people at Gare du Nord and London St Pancras for staring down at their phones. I was saddened by their sullen faces, because I had just emerged from an emotionally complex chapter in my life, and I wanted everyone else to open their eyes and make the kinds of human connections I was lucky keep in my own heart.

I remember spending a wonderful summer in London doing yoga every morning, enjoying the BBC Proms and practising hard for the one I’d be leading only a month away. We took swing-dancing classes in a beautiful bar in East London which has now been transformed into offices? Flats?

I remember moving into my new flat with new flatmates in a brand new area called Camden Town which I’ve grown to love very, very much.

I remember beginning final year with the vision – at last, finally, amazingly, I felt ready and pumped – of pursuing violin and playing in professional orchestras for the rest of my life. I was riding on the high of the last 3 years of my life.

I remember researching all the conservatoires I had visited and wanted to apply for, and picking the pieces I really wanted to present in my auditions.

I remember playing with Scottish Ensemble in December and feeling the groove in my knees and swaying with the beat.

And then one day, I just didn’t feel like that anymore.

I remember ripping off the stickers on my violin case; apart from the NASA and Whistler ones; they’re very cool and ironed on tight.

I remember reading Georges Perec’s Je me souviens in French Class back in Strasbourg, and then I felt like writing some 2000 or so of my own instead of the essays.

The word university is somewhere in there.

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4 thoughts on “27 days

  1. This makes me feel like I’ve been through all these same things with you Yeye, even though I obviously didn’t. “Practising violin for hours and hours in my tiny box room in London Bridge but not really listening to anything I was doing” really hit me.. Your spirit cannot ever be extinguished! Keep doing you mate ❤

  2. I love you ❤ (sorry, not trying to creep you out of anything). BUT can I just add: going to see Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing with a period-pain-stricken friend and then finding ULTIMATE satisfaction in one of the best chocolate milkshakes of said friend's life and laughing, talking, laughing some more until we finally decided it was time to go home? So happy I got to meet you Yeye. E xx

  3. “All the world’s a stage.” – A Letter to My Pre-University Self | An Ode to Life – The Diary of a Noggin

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