Well, to employ some massive clichés for the last time, I’m finally taking the bull by the horns, putting my money where my mouth is, and biting the bullet. This week I began a Master’s degree in Magazine Journalism, and friends, hear this. I am broken.
It’s been six years since I last graduated from university. I’m not sure exactly what I expected from my first week back in academia; all I know is that it wasn’t this.
An unhelpful analogy: a couple of weeks ago I went on a last-hurrah package holiday to Greece, where I inexplicably and misguidedly signed up for a beginners’ windsurfing course. For five days I put myself at the mercy of forces beyond my control and fell – wildly, hilariously, painfully, repeatedly – into the sea. Every time I fell, I had to haul myself back onto the board, bruising my entire body and grating my knees into the Ionian sea in the process.
That’s what this week has been like. I’d love to write a smug blog post reporting that my first days as a trainee journalist were a breeze, that I’d found my place in the world, that everything suddenly made sense. But they weren’t. I haven’t. It doesn’t. This week has been one of the hardest of my life.
The first day of induction week. I arrived at university, nauseous with low blood sugar, and took a seat near the front of the 2013 intake of impossibly young and glamorous trainee journalists. Our introductory address was at 9.30am. At 11 we were cast out onto the streets of Islington with instructions to obtain four vox pop interviews and a deadline.
My brother, who works nearby, got in touch to find out if I wanted to meet for lunch.
This was not induction week: this was “Induction With Forceps, No Gas And Air And An Unsympathetic Moustachioed Midwife” week. There was no time for lunch. The rest of the day passed in a haze of writing up, work experience briefings and vague, nameless terror.
I met my brother at lunchtime and cried like an abandoned child. Tom initially took my explanation that enrolling on the course had been a terrible mistake at face value. However, when he learnt that I hadn’t eaten for over 24 hours he escorted me to Exmouth Market and permitted me to buy lunch for both of us. The clarifying filter of houmous enabled me to see that dropping out of a Master’s course on day two was perhaps a little premature, and I returned to classes in a slightly more rational frame of mind. In the afternoon my writing partner and I were asked to write 30 words on this ridiculous product and 65 per cent bonhomie was restored.
Some former students came in to tell us what to expect from the course. I searched desperately for houmous but there was none, so I tried instead to listen to the testimony I liked (“this was the best year of my life”) and mentally edit out the bits I didn’t (“but it was also the worst year of my life”). Afterwards we repaired to the local student pub where a round of three drinks cost £12.50. I realised I was no longer in Kansas and rued the day.
On Thursday we were sent out individually to our allocated “patches” and told to find, research and write a news story for a 5pm deadline. I found an excitingly-abandoned building in my Southwark patch and spent a thoroughly satisfying morning interviewing locals, trawling online forums for clues and purchasing title registers before realising that my news story was current two years ago. I didn’t even care. I was in my element, and I hadn’t been able to compare myself to anyone else all day.
This was the fifth day of commuting to university on the London Underground, and – I decided, as I stepped from the moist armpit of the Northern line – my last. On arrival at university, I had a violent altercation with a Mac and delivered my subsequent presentation from a place of deep, implacable rage. The rest of the day got better simply because it couldn’t get worse.
And back onto the board I climb.