- working for a living,
- paying bills,
- renting a flat,
- generally being a grown up.
There is an obvious solution to this, which is to go back to university, so that's what I plan to do. I got a place at the University of Oxford back in February to study for a Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) in theology, and I leave for St. Stephen's House in about 3 weeks time.
So far, so terrifying, and that was before I got the Freshers' guide in the post. I haven't been a fresher for about 6 years, I'm not sure I know how! Freshers' week at UCL is a bit of haze of awkward conversation, slightly dodgy parties in the Windeyer Bar (RIP) and then in the weeks that followed, a lot more beer, some drunken fumblings in Popstarz (you know who you are and I'm very sorry) and finally the bizarre decision (after a lot of vodka) to stand for election as co-president of the LGB Society*. All of that is totally fine and normal if you're 18 but I have this funny feeling that most of the people at St. Stephen's are real adults, and some of them might even have managed to hold down a job outside retail. I'm just a bit nervous that I don't really know how to talk to new people unless they want to know where we keep books by Philippa Gregory (ground floor, left-hand side, general fiction, her new title is also on display next to the music store).
Admittedly, as much as I joke about pink hair and piercings, I don't really think I'm all that unconventional. I've lived in Camden for six years, I'm well aware that I would have to try an awful lot harder to be really shocking. But, nonetheless, I still get slightly surprised looks from people when I tell them what I want to do with my life - "What, like a priest? Doesn't anyone mind about your tattoo?" - and it makes me more nervous again. It doesn't help that my view of the Anglican community is coloured by the media obsession with women's consecration and the place of LGB people within the church, and so I assume that as a woman who identifies as gay I won't last five minutes.
None of this does any favours to the people I'll be studying with, of course, and the reality of living and working amongst people has taught me that to most people none of the surface issues really matter. Some of my closest friends and colleagues over the years have been very conservative and aside from the odd argument over a pint (of cola) about the precise role of the state in resolving the economic crisis, we get on just fine!
More to the point, of course, most people will be feeling exactly the same way. St. Stephen's is a community of about 60 students, but the guide only lists 15 continuing students. So I can't be too worried about walking in to a pre-existing clique because new faces will by far outweigh the old. Many of the new students will be in the same position as me, independent students coming to study either theology or education but not seeking ordination in the Anglican church. Even more encouragingly, there seems to be a real sense that as a small college everyone takes responsibility for the environment and for building a community. The weekdays start as early as 7:30am with meditation, followed by Morning Prayer and Mass, and at 3pm on a Monday there is a slot in the timetable for "group duties", which appear to include gardening and cleaning. I'm sure I'll come to dread that slot in time (chores have never been my strong point), but at the moment it just seems to stand for a sense of responsibility for, and pride in, the place we all live and work that has to be a good thing.
So, come Saturday 2nd October I'll be a student again. I have a lot to sort before I go and when I get there, so I'm sure the next few weeks will pass in a blur. Meanwhile, if you're in Oxford, please send me a message and say hello! Friendly faces are always appreciated and I'm so nervous that I won't know anyone!
*Now UCL Union LGBT Students' Network. How times change.