2003 and now
Yeah. I’m offski. And I can’t tell if I’m sad to be going or not.
Technically, of course, I left once before, and I couldn’t bring myself to blog about that either – the best the Internet got was a post about how I’d made it back to Newport – but at that point I was still hoping I’d be coming back again once Ruth finished her Industry Year, and I wanted to keep quiet so as not to jinx things.
This time, though, I’m not returning. Yeah, I might come back for a few days here and there, but I’ve come to realise that I can’t live here anymore: it’s simply time to be going. There are no jobs here, and Ruth is away in Oxford, and by the time you account for the people leaving in the next four months or so just about every friend I have in town will be gone anyway.
Most of them, in fact, have already gone: of the people I was in Penbryn with, nothing beside remains. I feel like George, in the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, and in itself I think that’s a good reason for me to be getting out.
I feel like I’ve gone off Aber lately, and I blame having too much to do. This is an absolutely fantastic town to live in, but if your definition of ‘living’ has been reduced to ‘fit in as much work as you can and see if you can free up an hour or two for sleeping’ then wherever you live will have the magic knocked out of it. This town used to feel like home, and lately all I’ve been doing is counting down the days until I can get out of it, and won’t have to do so bloody much all at once anymore.
The past year has burned me out like never before and I’ve just not had time to appreciate the place – it’s the same feeling as when you get to the end of the day, and no matter how interesting the radio show, all you want to do is get some sleep. Indeed, I’ve had that feeling quite a lot lately, mainly around 04:00 when I’ve tended to realise I’ve not been to bed for yet another night on the trot. If this is the end of the day, then, it’s been a damn long and busy one.
It’s been productive, though. In my time I’ve seen what lies beyond the secret door in the balcony of the Old College Library, explored the attics of the Queen’s Hotel and been inside the excuse for a Civil Defence bunker beneath it.
I’ve eaten in Branwens and survived it, and in Ta Med Da and seen no difference. I’ve seen Alexandra Hall rebuilt, the derelict platform reconstructed, and found all three of the University computer rooms in town. I remember when there was a Dixons, and there were Pink Floyd covers painted on the wall of the Fountain, and the shop run by Cyril the World’s Most Disreputable Locksmith was still doing a brisk trade in, er, keys. I’ve watched as Galloways went down, and Harry’s turned from an expensive swanky restaurant to an expensive manky themebar and I’ve ridden the mythical Disco Cab with all the interior lights flashing.
I can remember the awesomeness of Stu, a man who used run Aberystwyth’s only 24 hour taxi service on his own, and I barely have the digits to count the number of times he came through for me at four in the morning. He got burnout too, small wonder, and yet once last year we were sat in the back of a taxi out to Morrisons and reminiscing about the days of Stu, and how we’d missed him after he went, only for the driver to turn round and say ‘It’s nice there’s still people who remember me,’ in a final glorious swansong.
Even though I’ve had seven years, I’ve managed to do an awful lot in my time. Back in the first year I even had time to do some acting with the Nomads, and delighted old James Ellington by singing Bravely Bold Sir Robin whilst being sick into a bucket (his fault for giving me whisky on top of wine. And wine on top of cider…) And then when I was too busy for AmDram, I taught myself to stay awake all night, to live on coffee, and to map my network drive from a Citrix box so I could sit in the dark and play Uplink in the quiet hours.
I’ve spent far more hours than is healthy cramped up in tiny rooms with a stream of nervous Freshers with their faces blurred into a succession of panicking expressions without a name, and I’ve spent a summer alternately commuting to pack chocolate in Tywyn and shouting down the Guild until they crawled away spattered with the gore of their own failed machinations and embarrassment.
I genuinely believe I managed to do some good, somewhere along the way, and by my standards that ain’t a small concession. I’ve certainly known good people, and I can’t help but hope that some of their attitude to life has rubbed off on me. I suspect that’s why I’ve finally managed to loosen up a bit, and to have more time for people (or at least those people willing to toe the line), and I no longer lock myself away behind austerity the way I used to: I’ve gone through more’n half this year wearing jeans, for goodness’ sake.
You didn’t ought to come out of University anything like the same person you went in as, or you can’t claim to have been properly drawn out at all, but it seems a shame that I’ve been changed into someone for whom a lot of the magic of Aber has gone. All that stuff I’ve done, and yet it feels like I did it somewhere else, somewhere less cold and less grey and somewhere… somewhere easier. I think that’s the real problem, it feels like the Aber I was in love with ain’t the one that’s here now, and in a lot of ways that makes sense. Aberystwyth is a beautiful place to be a student because it’s friendly and safe and secluded, and it gives you time to come out of school, and work out who you are, and who you want to be, and it lets you find the path between the two in your own time.
Once you’ve done that, I don’t think it’s such an easy place to stay. Sure, you can hang on, but it’s like being in the wrong gear, somehow, and you can tell you’ve overstayed and you’re cluttering up the place, and you’re left watching as all the old ways die out, and new ways get invented and you can’t help but wonder what the old guard would’ve made of ‘em, and that just makes you feel lonely.
Once you’ve become a dinosaur in your own time, it gets harder and harder to stay, you have to fight all the time not to point to the next incoming asteroid even when you know it’s none of your business and might well be no such thing anyway. That’s a bloody tiring way to carry on, and every day is a bit more of a disappointment as you realise that you’re still here and everything’s moved beyond you. It’s possible that a lot of what’s given me that feeling is down to the pressures of this last year – seriously I cannot stress enough how hard it is to do a full-time postgraduate course and multiple paid and unpaid jobs – but I feel like there’s something more, too. I dunno what, but knowing doesn’t matter as much as the discontent anyway, and in some ways I feel like I already lost the place, and the sadness at leaving is just caused by admitting that defeat…
I’m not quite out of love with Aber, but it feels like this is the end of my time: the golden age is past and the sun’s setting, and I need to give Aberystwyth time to rest, and move myself on. Above all, I need to make space so that all these new people can get the room they need to work out what they’re going to make of themselves. I’m not much of a one for signs, and I’m glad I stuck the course long enough to meet Finbar, but if ever there was a sign that my work here is done it’s the arrival of a Fresher who dresses better than I did…
What I’ve got out of Aber is as much as anyone can hope to get out of a University: experiences. Some of ‘em bad, most of ‘em good, and all of ‘em a chance to learn a bit more about myself and other people. If I’ve got some actual booklearning accidentally tucked away in there, so much the better, but it’s an incidental bonus to the value I already extracted.
I’ve still got a stack of packing to do, and I’m looking forward to reaching Earth, and I will be glad to be gone, because if nothing else I need to give my brain a rest from all the constant juggling of roles it has to keep up in Aber.
But I’ll come to miss the place all the same. I can’t be sorry yet that I’m going, because I really have been here too long, and it’s well past the time I can appreciate the place. I think I’ve done good work here, though I’m too exhausted to carry on with it and it’s time I let both of us get a decent night’s sleep. But, in the same way as I know it’s time to be going, I also know that by the morning I’ll be missing it again. And that’s all the more reason to start making a move.