I should be shouting from the rooftops but there is a surprising sense of detachment as I am passing the excited eighteen year-olds on my way to the official Induction. I keep adding to my To-Do List, which includes items such as “arrange childcare”, “book car – MOT/servicing” and “cook lasagne so husband and the boys don’t eat crisps and chocolate while mummy is away”. Somehow, with the overwhelming mass of duties in front of me, I have turned into a machine that goes mechanically through motions of completing tasks, while starting a new intellectual exploration in this cathedral of all human wisdom, called university. My ambitions can’t disturb the functioning of the family, that is, in itself, a challenge requiring super-organisational skills and practically to-the-minute planning, military style.
The teenage freshers, meantime, sensing the freedom from their oppressive parents, adventures that await them ahead, the scent of inviting futures, all the great things that one cannot even name, stagger, as if intoxicated, through the cobbled streets. This tells me that, although I fake being an adult most of the time (because what do I know about the world?; I don’t know any answers so my favourite way is to make things up as I go along), I am definitely not a teenager; I am not twenty, not even twenty-five.
We are all sitting in the lecture hall with identically startled expressions on our faces while we are being introduced to the head of our department as well as being informed of what to expect. I am next to a Spanish girl. First, she tells me that I already look like a writer. I am not sure how to take it. How does a writer look like? A fragile wood nymph in the style of Sylvia Plath? Or an exotic beauty like Anna Akhmatova? Or is it more like Zadie Smith? Anyway, I thought only actors, models and pop singers had a look. Then I surprise her by telling her that I am not British, or any other kind of a native speaker. Well, I can surely fool most “foreigners”. I usually receive a compliment that I am the only British person they can understand.
There are other part-time students like me. And like me, they are also mature. A teacher is moving her house. My husband is a teacher so I know you can’t get away with less than sixty hours a week in that particular profession. There are people with two part-time jobs or one full-time. Mums with young children. A pregnant woman in full-time employment. An Irish man who flies in from Dublin for lectures. An American lady who commutes from Leeds. There is a dyslexic lady who also happens to be a very talented poet.
When you grow up as the strange kid who writes poetry and stories, lives mostly in the world of her imagination, hiding behind glasses, biting nails and feeling mostly awkward, the odd one out, it is a surreal experience to be in the room full of other people who clearly did not fit.
The teacher tells me she wants to escape teaching. I don’t want to break her dreams by telling her that writing is a precarious profession with no fixed income or pension plan. She may make it. She may become very famous and wealthy from her writing. It does happen. And if you don’t have hope, what else is left out there?
Observing my fellow students and budding authors, my day dreaming begins to take my mind into the land where all these people curiously dance around a camp fire, like in the film The Wicker Man. I laugh out loud. Luckily, in the noise around, no one notices. Have I mentioned that I frequently talk to myself? I am definitely going to fit in just fine.
By the evening, we have a Facebook page for our group of students. The prompt invite to a p