Thursday, 17 January 2013

Goodbye May Seem Forever...

So as my Date With Disney moves ever closer (26 sleeps for those of you not counting), I find myself filling every spare hour, lunchtime and evening with emotional Last Visits to those that I am going to miss most during my year away.

What I have found is that I can go (and have gone) for years without seeing certain people. I think about them every now and again, email them, text them, even write letters in certain cases, but never panic about when I'm going to see them again.

Then I sign a contract to go and live in America for a year and suddenly I need to see everyone I've ever met before I go.

There's something about knowing that it'll be at least a year before you see someone again that makes it so much harder to handle.

When I was at college with my best friends Minnie, Jessie and Pumbaa, I'm fairly sure that it never crossed my mind to miss them between four pm on a Tuesday and nine am on a Wednesday. Yet when we had our Big Goodbye before Pumbaa and I left for university the pain of missing them hit me approximately thirty seconds after I walked out.

Pumbaa went to work in France for six weeks once. I cried for four of them. At the end of last year we were living fifteen minutes away from one another and went six weeks without seeing each other without even noticing.

It's often said that true friends are those that can go long periods of time without speaking then see each other again and find that nothing has changed; it's like no time has passed at all.

I actually find that with most people.

I recently bumped into my form tutor from secondary school (for those of you who have never experienced this as an adult- seeing a teacher outside of school never stops being funny. Did you know they also have first names?)

Despite the fact that I am now twenty-three years old- have a job, a driving licence, a degree and a whole horde of friends who are also now teachers- the second that he was in front of me I managed to melt into the giggling, slightly geeky (yes I said slightly) falsely-confident fifteen year old girl that I thought I had escaped.

So I'm not sure that the 'Ooh we're such good friends, it's like nothing's changed!' argument stands up really.

What I have found is that your true, most wonderfully brilliant friends are the ones that you can go years without seeing but will still be laughing with as soon as you clap eyes on one another again.

This weekend I returned to Coventry to 'say goodbye' to a few friends that I hadn't seen for at least sixteen months.

At my first stop I saw Mrs Potts and Naala. I hadn't seen either of them since April 2011. Within minutes we had settled back into the same roles that we played at university. Mrs Potts hosted us in her beautiful house, and busied herself getting us drinks, sitting us in the comfiest chairs, being nothing but complimentary about everyone we mentioned and catching us up on her successful career and married life. At one point she mentioned something terrible that Maleficent had done but just frowned and muttered something along the lines of 'well I did think that was a little bit unfair really', before returning to her smiley, positive self.

Naala, on the other hand, told us exactly what she thought of Maleficent and what she had done (I'll not repeat her exact words on here), immediately making me laugh out loud and- to use the cliche- feel that no time had passed at all.

In fact, while I was there I had to continually remind myself that time has passed, that things have changed. Mrs Potts is married. She owns a house and a dog and has the very grown-up job of being a Primary School Teacher (hence the lack of first name). Naala and Simba moved to Australia for a year. Now they're back working in grown-up offices saving for their next travel adventure.

Which is perhaps why none of us had to dash off for lectures at any point. None of us were hungover. We didn't have text books on our laps as we chatted. Nobody launched into a rant about a tutor. Nobody burst into tears and started wailing about their dissertation. We weren't even wrapped in blankets and clutching hot water bottles because- wait for it- Mrs Potts had the heating on.

So having discussed Mrs Potts' wedding, job,dog and house; covered Naala and Simba's year in Australia, jobs, and future plans, mentioned the words Disney and excited approximately five thousand times and drunk my weight in glasses of water, I was back on the road again for my lunch date with Jasmine, Dory and Rajah.

Having been in my car for approximately one and a half minutes I realised I had made a huge mistake in taking advantage of Mrs Potts' hospitality by drinking so much water without also using her bathroom before I left.

Glancing down at my Sat Nav I saw that I still had thirty-nine minutes to go. Thirty-nine minutes with the Atlantic Ocean splashing around my bladder. 

I text Dory and let her know: a sure sign of a good friend I think. There aren't many people that I would keep up to date with my bladder activity.

Now my Sat Nav was a Christmas present in 2005. So sometimes it's not the most reliable....

Which is why, forty-five minutes later, I found myself driving down a country lane; a big, white farmhouse with a broken gate the only sign of life outside of my car, around which a confident Australian man called Ken was echoing: 'You have reached your destination.'

I'll let you imagine what I told Ken to do with his destination.

I pulled in alongside the farmhouse and called Jasmine.

'You're lost? Ha! Dory said you'd be lost. Funny. Deep breaths Belle. Maybe stop behind a bush before you drive any further?'

The ability to make fun of you when you're already down. That's the sign of a true friend. Maybe they should print that on a magnet? 

Following the directions I eventually got from Rajah, the only person who could work out where I was, I did- you'll be pleased to know- eventually find the pub that the girls were waiting in.

Within approximately seven minutes I was laughing so much that I was hysterical. Tears were streaming down my face, breathing was enormous effort and my stomach muscles were starting to feel the same way as  they normally feel after my Davina workout DVD.

The last time I had seen the three girls was during what I am quite certain was the best weekend of my life so far: the weekend that Dory married her Rich Prince Charming. So we had a lot of analysing and reminiscing to do. Especially because before Dory met her RPC and Jasmine started pursuing her dreams the three of us lived together.

Similarly to my earlier stories about Minnie, Pumbaa and Jessie, I would never wake up in the night missing the girls, counting down the minutes until I was going to see them again (although that might be because Dory had a charming habit of arriving home drunk, eating a huge pot of olives then climbing into bed with me with a delicious combination of wine and olive breath.) 

Yet the day that we moved out of our flat was an emotional minefield. It was the first (and only) time I have ever seen Princess Jasmine cry, and Lovesong by Sarah Bareilles still brings a tear to my eye because of it.

But none of it matters now. Because we only see each other now and again: when we do we relive our old memories and recreate new ones- and it's like no time has passed at all. 

I know that it ends well- that we're friends forever and that we'll never stop laughing.

So far I've explained my visits to two sets of friends, but they are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Over the past few weeks I have visited Timone, Mr and Mrs Potato Head, Hercules and the Irish Prince, and after each and every visit I have walked out with the same two thoughts:

1. I am a grown-up. Okay, not me personally. But I'm at a grown up age. I'm at an age now that I can say (and often do- when I'm mistaken for being nineteen) 'No I finished my degree a few years ago now.' My best friends are planning their weddings, throwing dinner parties for their live-in boyfriends' families (whether they want to or not in some cases, which leads me to..), complaining about their mother-in-law, wearing suits to work, making mortgage payments and going to the Maldives for two weeks with 'the other half'.

I genuinely see myself as an eighteen year old. I just cannot believe the difference that time makes. I'm definitely going to be one of those hairy aunties at weddings saying 'My goodness I remember when you were in nappies!' Time just blows my mind.

2. I wish I could go back to university. My favourite musical features the brilliant song 'I wish I could back to college' which sums up how I feel exactly. I would do anything to go back to that amazing time, relive the memories and fall back into that lifestyle....

Here are my Top Ten Things To Miss About University...

1. The stories. Every day is a new adventure at uni- there's always a drama, always a story. One of the best stories from my three years at university is the time that Dory woke up in bed with our third housemate Sally's boyfriend. Not because anything dodgy had happened, but because he had been so drunk he had wandered from the bathroom into the wrong bed, and she had been so drunk that she had assumed it was one of the lads who lived downstairs that she had kissed once (which would have been perfectly acceptable according to her intoxicated logic). My favourite part of this story though, was that when we were analysing the situation at breakfast (once the police had been notified that The Missing Boyfriend had been found- seriously- and Jasmine had managed to stop laughing), Dory commented: 'Mm I did think it was a bit weird when he told me he loved me, farted and rolled over.'

Only at university.

2.  Having permanent company. When you're at uni you're never more than two minutes away from friends. Even if you're in an empty flat you're probably a staircase away from a huge group of people waiting to entertain you. If ever I was bored, confused, angry or just thought of something hilarious that I immediately needed to share, I knew I could always wander into somebody's bedroom and everything would be right again. Sometimes Jasmine used to just lay on my floor while I wrote essays (that was until the ant infestation),   and I ran into Naala's room in tears so many times during my third year that I doubt she remembers what I look like when I smile.

3. Being able to work hard and play hard every day of the week and somehow not get tired. I know I said that I'm a grown-up now but I'm not that old. Yet somehow the ability to be out until three and fresh-faced in a classroom at nine has gone somewhat downhill since I turned twenty-one. I didn't used to think anything of being in lectures from nine until six, working out for an hour with Davina, having dinner, hopping in the shower then being in Lava until it closed at three. There's no way I could do that three/four nights a week now. And it's definitely not because I work harder now than I did at university.

Although there was a time during my third year when one of my tutors told me she thought I should cut down my Student Ambassador hours because I looked rough. I decided to go for the 'well what can I say? I'm a martyr' shrug rather than tell her the truth which was: Lava.

Which leads me to number four....

4. Lava Ignite. 
The best nightclub there ever was.
A wonderful combination of every sportsperson from the university, £2.30 drinks (for the wilder students. Not for me. I had to pay £2.60 for a water. Cheek really.) and as much Whitney/S Club/H20 as you could handle.

It's now a gym. What a waste.

5. Living near everything. I know that this doesn't just apply to university life- this one really comes from city life but I had never lived in a city before and the novelty never wore off. You're only ever a two minute walk from a newsagents selling all the chocolate/ice cream/sweets you could possibly need.  (Albeit a rather dangerous one. In my second year I lived two doors away from a newsagents and still experienced a thirteen year old girl being beaten up by a thirty year old woman on my walk once.) You can be in the city centre within ten minutes no matter where you live (obviously this applies to Coventry and not every city), you've got restaurants, night clubs, cinema and ice skating on your doorstep and you can walk everywhere (if you're willing to wear flat shoes, a pony tail and a coat to the door of the club then transform yourself like Claudia Schiffer does in Westlife's Uptown Girl video when you get there. Timone and I did that every Tuesday for two years in Coventry.)

Having grown up a train ride away from the nearest post office, this was beyond exciting.

6. Endless TV discoveries from living near so many people. It was through DVD borrowing at uni that I discovered The Inbetweeners and Gavin and Stacey. Both essential to surviving the modern world now.

7. The University of Warwick Latin and Ballroom Team.
Okay this one is fairly specific to me. But I'm sure that you can relate and apply it to a group of people you miss. There's something about a university sports team that is different from any other kind of team- there's an inexplicable bond that you don't get in other places. My time with the Warwick team has left me with far too many wonderful- and sometimes surreal- memories to mention. But they will stay with me forever.

8. Studying. 
I can't tell whether this one is completely obvious or I'm demonstrating my slightly geeky side again. I love studying, I love working really hard on something, finishing it and getting results. I love having that oh-my-goodness-I've-got-so-much-to-do-how-will-I-ever-get-it-done? feeling. I haven't had that since I left university. I'm sure I will again though. When age catches up with me and I get a grown-up job.

9. Being busy all the time.

Now I'm fairly sure this one depends on what kind of student you are/were. But I was a busy student. I worked hard at every single piece of work I was given- even the ridiculous seminar homework that the lecturers set then never asked about. I spent most of my evenings and weekends dancing for Warwick, my nights partying, my spare hours working for the Recruitment and Admissions Office (thanks to my pathetic loan entitlement) and somehow managed to find myself an Irish Prince (and a few Irish Frogs on the way as well actually...)

I love being busy all the time and it's something that I'm looking forward to returning to When I Grow Up.

10. Every single person that I met whilst I was studying. (Nearly.) 

I met so many amazing people whilst I was living in Coventry- people from all over the world that I would never have met in any other situation. People who made me laugh, made me cry, understood me, disagreed with me, sympathised, empathised, taught, learnt and made the person I am today. I will stop there before I cross the line into embarrassing.

On the other hand, there are certain memories that leave me feeling relieved that I am out of there....

1. Dodgy landlords. 

I absolutely loved my Halls of Residence. I loved my little bedroom, loved my housemates, loved the layout. But between October and February we had no heating whatsoever. I cannot explain how cold I was. We would sit writing our essays in coats and gloves, and once accidentally set the fire alarm off and had a visit from a Fireman because we were huddled round the hob with all four rings on.

After approximately five hundred notes, phone calls, visits to the office and letters, we were each given one week's rent back. Outrageous.

The experience that I had with my second landlord was horrendous: if I tell you I'll put you off of university forever. But rest assured: he's in prison now.

2. Dying of embarrassment watching drunk girls get naked on stage to win a mug. 

I never found it funny, I just wanted to curl into a horrified ball and cry for the poor sober girl who was going to wake up to those memories (and no doubt photos) the next day. 'That's someone's little girl' just went round and round my head. Maybe I'm a little bit innocent...

3. My dissertation. 

I'm not one of those people that loved researching and writing their dissertation. I actually remember that as quite a dark period in my life. Perhaps not helped by the fact that the Irish Prince was only in his second year at the time and would come round to mine at two in the morning- ridiculously drunk- and pass out in my bed while I continued to write.

I should probably mention here that he did stay a whole night in the library with me once. We only popped in for fifteen minutes at ten pm, and left at seven thirty the following morning: whole thing finished and printed. It was the only all-nighter ever did. And I did it three weeks before the deadline because I just couldn't take it hanging over my head any more.

4. Carrying my ridiculously heavy shopping back from Sainsbury's. 

Now I'm starting to sound my age.

But I used to insist on doing one weekly shop to save time and money, and I'd insist on walking- to save money- and there were times that I genuinely worried that my arms would just fall off in the middle of the road, hands still clutching the bags of Quorn and salad.

Each time I am reunited with my favourite uni friends I am filled with nostalgia and a longing to go back.

Then I think about each thing that I've done since I finished my degree and find myself filled with a longing to go back and repeat that experience as well.

So perhaps, as much as I loved my time at university, going back wouldn't be the answer.

As the cast of Avenue Q point out: 'If I were to go back to college- think what a loser I'd be. I'd walk through the Quad and think- Oh My God. These kids are so much younger than me...'

 Maybe in three years time I'll be wishing I could come back to this day- right now. The day that I spent making an Ugly Bug Ball with the gorgeous two year old that I Nanny for. Maybe I'll be wishing I could go back and live in Florida again. (I'm quite sure I'll be wishing that one.) Or maybe I'll have learnt to just be grateful for where I am.

After all....I'll be twenty-six by then. And that's really grown up :)

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