So what do you do for the last few days of college, when the exams are over? Have a ball, of course. You might not have much money to spend, but when did that ever stop you? These are your salad days, after all, the last before you go out into the big wide world and face what they all call reality. Best to make the most of it while you can.
Right now, we’re chilling on the grass in front of the hall. There’s Jimmy and Max and a few of the others. Jimmy and I finished our exams last week and Max sat his last one this morning. So we’ve got nothing to think about until the results come out. When will that be? Who knows. I’m not particularly bothered at the moment.
Naturally, we’re all nursing hangovers. Last night’s celebration in the union spilled over to this club in town and then back to a party in a student house somewhere. I don’t know when I got to bed. I’m going to try a hair of the dog later. This is party week and I’m not going to let a little thing like being hungover stop me.
Max has brought a ghetto blaster. We’re listening to A Certain Ratio quite loud, Shack Up and the rest of them. It won’t be long until we’re asked to turn it down. I know most people have finished exams. But there are a few that haven’t. I suppose someone’s going to complain before long.
For now, I’m lying back on the grass, sipping orange juice and letting the sunshine onto me. It’s a heatwave we’re having and hopefully, it’ll last for the whole of the summer. Not that I know what I’m doing yet. I’m not thinking about it until I get home.
A few students walk by, among them Sonya. She gives me a sideways glance. I smile to myself. I suppose I’ll go and pay her a visit pretty soon, I’ve not seen her properly since exams started. But I’ll leave it for now. I’m taking in the day and thinking about what I’m doing tonight.
It was another good night. We ended up in the Dance Machine. It’s been our usual haunt for the last three years and it was its usual excellence last night. We were standing at the bar and loving it. The music was just right, all these funky vibes that really got you in the mood to head onto the dancefloor and strut your stuff like you’re in Studio 54, or somewhere like that.
Jimmy was there and Max and the others, the whole lot of us, in fact. We were talking earlier in the evening about what we’re all going to do. Max is on about travelling, getting a Eurorail ticket, and heading off to the fleshpots of Europe and beyond. Good luck to him. I’ve always thought about doing the Henry Miller bit and going to Paris and living in a garret and wearing corduroy breeches or whatever the bohemian poets wore. Not sure I’ll have the dosh for it when I finish here though. I’ll probably end up in a garret somewhere back home. Though I’m not sure how corduroy breeches would go down with the locals in the night spots I’m likely to be frequenting when I get there.
Maybe I should suggest to Max that I join him. But it’s back to the question of dosharoonie again. I think I’ll just head back and see what happens. That’s what Jimmy’s doing. Though he lives in a fairly hip city where there’s a happening music scene, unlike some of us who have a small town beckoning, or at least the suburbs, depending on how you want to view it. Still, it’ll be good to see the place again, get some home comforts as I recharge the batteries, and get myself prepared for the next stage of my plans for world domination, or at least my entry into the music press, which is a role for which I’m destined.
But back to last night. We funked around the dancefloor, had a bit of fun. There were some girls from Jimmy’s English course who we hung around with for a while. We stayed until they kicked us out, when we roamed through town, whooping and shouting, in praise of these last three glorious years and saying we’ll always stay in touch no matter what our futures hold. Then it was the walk up the hill and to bed.
Results day. An unexpected results day. None of us knew exactly when they would be announced. In the end, it’s an informal chat that does it, when we see one of our lecturers in the main arts building. I go to the library to take some books on existentialism back and they’re all there, the crowd from my course with who I’ve been discussing Plato and Descartes and Wittgenstein for the last three years.
We stop and have a chat and they say they’re going to try and find out when the results are going to be known. I shrug my shoulders and join them. I hadn’t thought about the results. There has been too much going on. But this lot is a pretty good laugh and I don’t know if I’m going to see them again, so I join them and we go up to the offices and look for anyone who might be able to give us some information. There’s no one around. We wander down the corridor in search of someone from our department.
There are a couple of people who work in the office here, who you never see. No one says anything. We nearly give up. Then one of our lecturers, Paul Jones, comes the other way. Paul is a bit of an old hippy, looks like he was at Woodstock, or an old English version, maybe the original Glastonbury or a folky incarnation. I’ve sat and listened to him talk at length about Plato. He’s always pretty engaging. His lectures have been pleasurable moments of the last three years.
He looks pretty pleased with himself. Greets us in his usual soft-spoken manner, with a smile. One of my contemporaries asks him about the results. He says they’re out. We look at each other. When? Just now, he says. We ask further. He tells more.
I’ve got an upper second. That’s what he says. I’m pleased. Not bad in view of the amount of work, of lack of it, I did. I hadn’t really expected to do better than that.
So I call my mum and tell her the news and she’s full of congratulations and raptures about my brilliant future. Then we head off to The Crown for an impromptu celebration.
It’s Sonya’s last night. I see her in the Union. I’m walking through the corridor, on my way back to the bar, and she comes downstairs. There’s a party in the upstairs bar, which we were going to crash, and you can hear the music and shouting loudly from here.
“Billy,” she calls as she comes down. “I haven’t seen you for ages.”
Me you, neither, I think to myself. Seeing her tonight is a welcome addition to the final days’ celebrations.
She puts her hand on my shoulder and kisses me on the cheek.
“Are you coming to the party?” she says.
“Who’s is it?”
“A friend of someone or other. Not sure really.”
Go on then, twist my arm, I think, though it doesn’t need a lot of twisting. She looks good tonight, radiant even, full of the joys of an English summer. She puts her arm in mine and leads me up the stairs. She turns and smiles at me in that way she has, tossing her black hair back. It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve been in one another’s company properly. Maybe the alcohol has been flowing profusely but this certainly feels like a return to the spirit of a few months back, before my unreliability became a key topic of conversation whenever we met.
We walk into the crowded bar and head to where they’re serving.
“What are you getting me?” she asks.
“What would the lady like?” I ask
“A gin and tonic.”
“A gin and tonic it is then.”
I order one and buy myself an ice-cold can of lager. We move away from the bar and occupy a corner.
“So, when do you get your results?” she says.
“Got them already.”
I tell her the story of going to the department and seeing Paul Jones and him telling us the results. I tell her what I got.
“You jammy so and so,” she says. “For someone as idle as you.” She laughs. “How did you manage that?”
“I don’t know. I just did.”
“You’re just, I don’t know. Just jammy.”
Oh well,” I say, shrugging my shoulder and smiling. “You know what I’m like.”
“I do indeed. Idle with it.”
“Anyway”, I say, laughing. How long are you around for?”
“Going home tomorrow.”
I look at her. “You kept that quiet.”
“I know. I wasn’t intending to go tomorrow. But I haven’t got a lot of choice.”
“Just am. My dad's picking me up. He couldn’t do it next week or the week after. He has things on.”
“What about you?”
“In the week, I suppose. Not sure when. Sometimes.”
We look at each other.
“People are drifting away already.”
“How are we going to manage?” she says. “Without all this?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.”
“I don’t suppose you would. You, the way you are. Taking things as they come. Moving on from one thing to the next, without thinking. Not a care in the world.” I smile.
“It’s not like that. I have my cares.”
“I don’t believe that. I just don’t.” I smile again.
Then she moves her head towards me and our lips meet. The music plays, the clientele talks loudly, the wine flows. A while later, the DJ plays the final record, last orders are called, and the bar closes. We leave and head out onto the street. Then we make the familiar walk from the Union back to my room, for the last time.
The students are dwindling. They’re leaving, one by one. First Sonya, now other people from my hall and on my course. Max is talking about going tomorrow. I’m going at the weekend.
I suppose it happens every year. We all drift off at this point. No one hangs around. They all go back to their other lives, somewhere else. It’s funny how everyone else’s “somewhere else” seems so much more exciting than your own. You imagine them going off to places where there are palm trees and all night, underground clubs, filled with the beautiful people, and cafe bars where they sit talking about films and music and existentialist ideas. You know it’s not like that really. But it doesn’t stop you from imagining.
I’m heading off right now, out of the hall, through the gate, and down towards the hill. The sun’s out and it’s shining on me. The sun is always shining on me. If it carries on like this, I’ll have a bit of a tan to take with me when I head off home.
I light a ciggy and realise I’ve only got one left. When I get to the main road, which snakes through the upper part of town, I do a detour to the newsagents. This has been a regular port of call over the last three years, for my weekly dose of new vibes, courtesy of the NME, my bible since I was about fourteen.
I push the door open and the man who’s been there since day one looks up at me. There’s no acknowledgment that here’s the cat who’s been patronising his establishment all this time and been buying endless supplies of ciggies and music papers and magazines like my other bible, The Face. To him, I’m just another of the wet behind the ears students who invade his town every Autumn and then leave so unceremoniously every June. Oh well, I think to myself, as he passes me a brand new pack of Bensons, in its gold packet, with the cellophane tightly wrapped round it and the red bit that I’ll peel away shortly and be greeted by the bit of paper that has gold foil on one side and paper on the other. I’ll pull the foil away as well then so the unmistakable and quite heavenly aroma of a new pack of ciggies will enter my nostrils. The anticipation of cigarettes. You can’t beat it.
I sometimes collect autographs on the bit of foil inside a packet of ciggies. I’ve got all of Dr. Feelgood on one somewhere, from a visit backstage at one of their shows back home once upon a time. I’ll have to find it.
But, for now, I put the packet in the pocket of my jeans and head back down the street towards the hill. There are people I recognise, by sight, who I’ve seen around over the last few years but have never crossed paths with to talk to. I suppose most of the people you see in life are like that. You only actually meet up with a small proportion of them. Are they the ones you’re meant to meet up with, as some folk claim? No, not having that. It sounds like nonsense to me. I much prefer the idea that it’s all down to chance.
I like the idea that life is down to chance. None of it is pre-determined, what a dull world it would be if it was.
When I get to the bottom of the hill, I turn left down the path and through the doors of the Union. I head up the stairs and through the hallowed portals into the bar.
I walk in. Jimmy’s in the corner. Time for a little amber nectar to get the proceedings started.
It’s weird. Seeing the place for the last days. It doesn’t feel like it’s the last days. It feels like a continuation, like we’re all going to meet up again in the autumn. But we’re not. Where will I be then? In a job in London? Bumming it round Europe? On the other side of the world? The world’s my oyster. I can do what I want. I feel so free right now. It’s all going to happen.
I’ve come for a look round the college, for the last time. Max had gone home, Jimmy’s going later. I’ve packed my things. I walk down college road and across the quadrangle that leads to the main arts building. I head to the library, on the right, where I spent days poring over old texts before my final exams. They’re still there, in my head somewhere. How long will they be there? Will they be kicked out by new things? Maybe. But now they’re at centre stage, with the rock and roll and jangly pop and funk that always sits there, or has since I was about eleven years old.
It’s quiet in here now. Everyone’s gone off and read their last book and is partying or heading off to their own place in the world. It’s funny when you think about it. Here we are, all dropped into this college town, from different backgrounds and different places and we forge new ties and bonds. And then we all leave, go our own ways, back to where we came from. To the states, Asia, Europe, beyond. The north of England, the south of England. Big cities, small villages, interesting places, uninteresting places.
I have a quick look in the library and leave. Head out onto the quadrangle. I walk across and go through the doors. I’ve come this way so many times, rushing to nine o’clock lectures. I walk down the stone steps to the lecture halls, normally resonant with voices expounding wisdom from ages past, met with youthful interest or, more likely, the cloth eared mornings of post-party hangovers, waiting for the bell to ring and to be let loose once again to go back to the hall to sleep it off.
I open the door and look inside. It’s empty now, no sonorous voices, no interested faces, no disinterested faces. Just rows of chairs and desks and a whiteboard and a view of faded academia out of the window. I have a look round. Then I leave and go back up the steps and across the quadrangle and onto college road.
Then I head into town. I walk down the hill and past the Union and past the pub where Jimmy and my band played a couple of loud, out-of-tune, discordant gigs, and into the centre. I walk past the pub where I met Sonya the first night we got together, the record shop where I spent hours going through old long players, the Oxfam shop where I bought my oversized suit jacket and brogues. It’s weird. Seeing it all for the last time.
We’re well on the way now. I’m looking out of the window at the green fields as they go by, one after another. The sun’s shining, coming in at me, as I sit on the train, my shades on to get rid of the brightness.
It’s a funny feeling, this. Having left the college town for the last time. I know I’ve talked about it a lot. Over the last few days. But I didn’t see it coming. Not really. You knew you were leaving but, in a sense, you didn’t. There was part of you that thought it would carry on forever, the clubs, the bars, the parties, as well as studying of course. I suppose there’s part of me who still thinks it will continue, even though I’ve said goodbye.
I’m listening to music. As always. This is my music. It’s a recording Max made of our band when we played a gig one night, supporting someone, at a pub near the university. There’s Jimmy on guitar and me on guitar and a guy we knew on drums. The drums are great and so is Jimmy’s guitar but mine’s out of tune and too loud and my vocals are down in the mix, probably not a bad thing really. I need to get a band together when I get home. I want to take it further. I want to write that song that will be a moment of greatness. A song that will echo round the world. That people will relate to and remember and think about when they’re doing their day-to-day things like working and living and eating and the rest.
I’ll do it when I get back. Give me a couple of weeks to get myself sorted out. Then I’ll get out there and find someone to form a band with. I need to start writing songs again. I’ve stopped for a while, with exams, but I’ll do it again, record day-to-day life in England. Put it down on the page. How it is. All of it.
I look out of the window. More fields passing. More sunlight in my eyes. The blue sky above. The world my oyster, all ahead of me. Wherever I want to go. I put my head back. Drift off to sleep.
Two hours later I get off the train. I walk through the barrier, show my ticket, and I’m away from the station, trudging towards the town, the same streets that I’ve known all my life.