A moment of self-pity this morning, of wishing myself elsewhere, or at any rate elsewhen.
I was standing in the library, looking out on to the back lawn. The end of the academic year usually infects me with a mild melancholy; this time, it was students coming back that set me off. Emily, back for her fourth year, walking along with a laundry bag and her father in tow, acknowledging one of the gardeners, unaware of me looking on.
The library was almost deserted, and the desk by the window beckoned me, Sit down. Sit and read and watch the students going past. Be free. I was transported through time. A sudden displacement, no harps or wavy lines. I was one of the students coming back, coming home. Working (or not working) in the morning, going for lunch in town at the sandwich place on Rose Crescent that no longer exists. Perhaps the cinema in the afternoon. Free, not obligated to anyone. Not that I was entirely free, but it’s possible to be almost entirely free if, like me, you resist committing to anything.
Was I really that apathetic, or is it a false memory? I did my work conscientiously, at least for the first term, and I performed in concerts and organised and publicised recitals, successful ones too, and attended committee meetings of varying degrees of tedium. But a lot of the time I spent on my own, browsing the record shops (also now closed), listening to Kindertotenlieder in my room, playing my piano, feeling gloriously independent. And sleeping.
That freedom is gone now, and work and routine and prescription have won. No more the short trek to the porters’ lodge to sign out the Recital Room key, no more the return to Cambridge at the start of term to find a package of CDs waiting, no more the self-consciously studenty midnight library visit in search of Apollinaire or Dylan Thomas. Take me back ten years, please, I prayed.
Except that my student days are so far in the past that by this time ten years ago I’d already graduated and was about to return to Cambridge, but not to study. I came back because I needed a course of treatment at Addenbrooke’s, and because I didn’t know where else to go. Months of unemployment followed, a continuation of the fecklessness of my third year that saw me barely scrape a 2.1 (I found a transcript of my marks the other week: it was a much closer run thing than I’d realised).
Eating pizza, watching Deal or No Deal, not applying for jobs, going to Blockbuster at the bottom of the road to borrow Godard films, listening to Carmen and Kodály and Jim O’Rourke on repeat, going to the hospital every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, reading Wodehouse and Harry Potter on the bus. A pleasing existence in its own way, but untenable. When, miraculously, I got a job, it was a godsend. If I hadn’t, goodness knows what I might be doing now.
Our lives turn on the flimsiest things. A hackneyed thought, but a true one. Some time ago I was excited at the prospect of a new job that I would have been ideally suited to in many ways. If I’d got it, who knows what marvellous things might have happened. But I do know that some great things that have happened since then would not have happened, because of my being elsewhere.
Right now, I’m happy. I admit it to myself quite often. It’s nice that because of my past having been generally pleasant I have the luxury of nostalgia, and I do spend a lot of time thinking about stuff that happened when I was younger, but although I can contemplate it I can’t recapture it, and would I really want to? The future may be even better; for the time being, this’ll do. I’ve come over all fotherington-tomas. Apologies. It won’t last. Or maybe it will.
[Play the two videos simultaneously, it’s very pleasing.]