I got my first ever negative review for my last blog post:
“Not interesting. Doesn’t make your employer look funny enough” – my former employer.
I don’t work for a comedian anymore. It ended really badly. Hard to work out why spending my early twenties working for a man in his late fifties in exchange for a place to stay ended really badly. But life is about learning from our mistakes so that we might grow into better, stronger people and, as Obi-Wan Kenobi famously said in Star Wars Episode IV, “If you strike me down, I shall lie face-down on my mum’s sofa for 3 months lamenting my existence and then get a job in a warehouse because this alcohol habit won’t fund itself!!!!!!!!”
I’m not going to write about what happened to me 2012-14 right now because I haven’t worked out how to make it funny yet. I judge how traumatic something is by how long it takes me to write about it. It took me 6 days to write about the death of my brothers’ dad in 2010; this one’s been over a year so far, so fingers crossed the zingers are coming soon lol!!!!!
I moved back to my mum’s house last year. Then I did seasonal work at Boots warehouse over the festive period because nothing says “Christmas” like leaping out of your childhood bed and running downstairs in your pyjamas at 5AM so you can stuff Lynx gift sets into cardboard boxes for £7/hour.
I’d been looking for jobs for a while because there’s only so long that someone can derive sustenance from Netflix and self-loathing, and after being rejected from every minimum wage cleaning job in my town and running out of Buzzfeed listicles to re-read I decided to sign on. And then I went for a quick interview at a warehouse so that the people at the Jobcentre who arranged it would like me and was still there 10 hours later wearing hi viz and steel-capped boots. The Jobcentre people had said that I had to “dress smartly, because it is an interview”, so I dressed smartly, because it was an interview, and when I arrived one of the other 100 people there for our induction and immediate start said “haha! You look like you’re going for an interview!” and yet again I felt like the only child in school who didn’t get the letter about non-uniform day.
I worked there from the end of November until the beginning of January. Boots do not think very highly of their staff. They outsource their Christmas hiring and firing to two agencies that do not think very highly of anyone at all. Less than 24 hours before Christmas Eve, everyone got a text saying “just a reminder that all days off on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day are cancelled and your bonus will be affected if you do not attend” and I was immediately impressed by their clever trick of introducing brand new information with the phrase “just a reminder”, and latterly impressed by their clever trick of threatening to reduce or revoke a bonus that nobody ended up getting anyway.
I quit that job at the beginning of January because we were all about to get laid off anyway, and took another one at a food testing laboratory in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. It paid less than the warehouse, but the people were great and I got to wear a lab coat like all of my friends that actually graduated. My job was to put things in a blender and then take things out of the blender and then clean the blender so that I could put more things in the blender. The lab was near the site of the since-demolished biscuit factory that my mum worked at before my birth similarly demolished her job prospects and sense of self, and I was glad that two years at the University of Oxford had made me so socially mobile that I’d ended up at least 100 yards from where I’d existed as an ovum.
I was only there for six months, but I got super attached to the people I was working with. It was a small group, and everyone was extraordinarily generous and funny and likeable. I left at the beginning of July so that I could focus on studying again, and I don’t think I’ve felt so moved leaving a job since my old boss told me I was the worst thing to happen to him since his ex-wife stole his children.
In August I went to Edinburgh for the Fringe. I spent the month working for and sharing a flat with the Freestival team, who were an absolute joy and upon whom I was an unmitigated curse, and performing my increasingly successful solo show “Heather Has A Panic Attack” on various walls and benches around the city. Then in September I moved back to Oxford, and since then my time has been divided pretty evenly between studying so that I can finish my degree and staring at my ceiling wondering how much longer I’ll be able to maintain the idea that I can finish my degree.
This is the closest that I’ve come to returning to university. Literally the closest; this is the first time that I’ve moved back to Oxford. More than that, though: it’s much harder to hide from academia when you’re living in an affluent city that’s suffocated by it, than it is when you’re in a former mining town whose economy predominantly relies on card shops and William Hill. Also, it’s easier for me to get in the right frame of mind to study in Oxford because it has a strong association with the time I spent here doing just that, whereas my hometown has a strong association with the time I spent there drinking unbranded whisky and watching back-to-back episodes of Bojack Horseman. But saying that this is the closest that I’ve come to returning to university is like saying that this is the closest that I’ve come to writing a good analogy. It’s technically true but ultimately meaningless; I’m still prohibitively far. Nobody really believes that I’m going to graduate. I sure don’t. I’m coming to the end of my fourth year out now. That’s more than a degree’s worth of years out from my degree. I have to keep a journal so that I know what I did yesterday, and now I’m trying to remember esoteric details of biological processes that I learnt about when I was 20.
My tutor thinks that I should take another year out. Her reasoning is good: before I took a break at the end of 2011 I’d already done the first term of my final year, so I’m due to formally resume my studies in January. However, I’ve been away for so long that the course has changed significantly, so she thinks that the university should grant me permission to start my final year over and come back in October rather than January 2016. My ideas for funding it are less good: I do not have any ideas for funding it. Sitting an extra term means paying an extra term’s tuition – and there’s a year and a half between now and when I’d finish where I’d need to be concentrating on getting back on track with my course rather than working full-time, but where I’d also need to pay rent and eat something other than dust and wishes.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I think my chances of graduating are vanishingly small, but that things will probably work out okay in the grand scheme of things. For now, I think I like being back. I never really settled in the first time round. I became fixated on the fact that I didn’t really meet any people like me here – kids from poor families – and spent so much of my time feeling inadequate and telling myself that I only got offered a place because Oxford had to meet some kind of Poor Person Quota that I never allowed myself to feel comfortable or really engage. But now I’m older, it seems a little less intimidating. I still feel intellectually and academically inadequate, and I still find the university itself tremendously intimidating, but the students that I was intimidated by are now between four and seven years younger than me. I was a kid last time. And I’m not sure I qualify as an adult this time, but it’s harder to feel quite so intimidated by 18 to 21-year-olds when you are not 18 to 21 – even if they talk fancy, went to the kind of schools that fostered a profound self-assurance within them that you rarely find elsewhere, and are managing to complete their degrees without taking four years out to curl into the foetal position and stare at walls.