Sunday, 18 October 2009

A little learning...

Whilst at university I never envied friends who were students in London. I was an undergraduate student in a small cathedral city at the other end of the country, and I loved it. Three years of tramping along Durham's cobbled bailey to my college, under the shadow of the great, solid cathedral and the ancient castle, endowed me with a thoroughly charmed university experience. Durham was a wonderful place to be a student - small enough for my friends and I to own the city, and with Newcastle only fifteen minutes away when it got too claustrophobic.
Friends and I rented pretty terraced houses (ok, some with undeniable damp problems and vermin squatters) which didn't cost the equivalent of a month's wages, or force us to live in areas where we feared for our lives, miles from our lectures. We bought rounds of drinks for 8 people which cost less than a tenner. We lived among lovely, smiling Geordies rather than miserable, stressed Londoners.
When I would visit school friends who'd come to university down here I enjoyed their big city lives for a weekend, marveling at the wealth of fripperies on which to spend a student loan. But they would bemoan the fact it was hard to make friends on this huge city-wide campus, some made utterly miserable by feeling alone and tiny amid the millions of Londoners. Moving here after graduating myself I could entirely understand. I would have hated to have spent three years here, living in Camberwell, trailing miles across the city to attend lectures, sat next to people I would not recognise from one week to the next. University life in Durham was an educational idyll. One was systematically late for every lecture or seminar having bumped into at least 4 friends crossing the tiny city. You had chums with whom to giggle through every tedious discussion of etymology or philosophy. The library was a social club, an evening out in sticky-floored student club, Klute, was like a large house-party; with the added bonus that you weren't the ones cleaning it up in the morning.

Sad to leave friends (and a pretty cushy lifestyle), I was still very ready to finish my studies by the time I graduated. Whilst many of my friends plunged straight back into academic life, undertaking Masters or PhDs, I was determined I wanted to embrace real grown-up life instead. Which I did. For all of about 18 months. Then for reasons which still evade me if I'm totally honest, I decided to apply for a part-time MSc to accompany my busy job. Ten pages of application forms later, a few months of waiting and I was accepted into Bloomsbury-based Birkbeck College. A few more months and I was receiving my library card, perusing reading lists and turning down post-work drinks with "Sorry, I've got a lecture on post-colonial development that night."

And now I am officially (and definitely somewhat Accidentally) a London student, dashing chaotically from work meetings to seminars to friend's birthday parties. But by way of doing rather overambitious part-time studies I have at least avoided the isolation of being a full-time student in London. My job affords me a non-studenty flat in a nice area of London, as well as a more than adequate way to pass the time between assignments! I also have my old lecture-mates, now my housemates, who I slogged through three years of undergraduate studies with, to greet me when I finally drag my exhausted self through the front-door after 3 hour discussions on neo-liberalism.
Some days I wonder why on earth I thought it a good idea to cram so much into my little life, bemoaning leaving parties early to go home and work, giving up shopping trips to plough through weighty tomes on capitalism. A little voice inside my head (or outside it, provided by the Accidental family) reminds me it'll be worth it in the end. My last degree led me from Durham to London, so who knows where I'll fetch up after this one. The promise of a new place to explore and a new life to lead is enough incentive for me.


  1. Great post.
    I spent my undergraduate years at the University of New England in Armidale NSW. Armidale is, like Durham, a university town. Definitely an experience to recommend.

    I have to say I have a bone to pick with Durham University.
    I have been to Durham a grand sum total of once (on the way to Hadrian's Wall). While I had a great few hours on a summer afternoon wandering around the Town and across and along the river, I couldn't look at the cathedral except from outside. The University graduation day was happening so the cathedral was off limits.
    Shame on you Durham Uni for disappointing an Aussie visitor!

  2. So sorry to have disappointed you, however you must have arrived in the one week in the whole year when visitors cannot roam freely about the cathedral - bad luck! It's worth seeing, and certainly beats the average marquee for graduation venues...

  3. Durham and its Cathedral are wonderful. I grew up in Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear and used to visit regularly, though I have never lived in Durham. The world awaits as you say...

  4. Ah Durham and the student life! I sometimes find it hard to believe London and Durham are part of the same country they are so different, and yet both are cities...

    Great blog by the way!

  5. Thanks, Laura! I know, such different examples of English cities - shows the wonderful North-South divide in a way too...


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