Last month, when shopping in Topshop, financial constraints forced me to use my soon- to-be-expired student discount to purchase a £5 pair of tights (I soon squandered the unimpressive 50p I had saved buying a Bounty Bar). I fumbled in my purse for my battered and worn Nottingham University SMART Card, which was eventually found hidden behind a pristine and neglected Gym membership laminate. However, this simple action of producing my University card resulted in me experiencing a minor emotional breakdown, the like of which I normally only have in Topshop when my preferred clothing size can no longer be forced to fit. I’m not a person naturally inclined to inexplicable breakdowns so it was only later, while eating the aforementioned Bounty Bar, that I realized I had experienced a delayed emotional reaction to leaving University. As I am returning to do a Master’s I (smugly) thought that I could bypass all this trauma. As it turned out, I had simply transferred all my feelings onto the humble student card.
Already there was something so nostalgic about the battered piece of plastic with its sensibly-sized thumbnail photograph (none of this new Library Card shite with its giant passport-sized picture, clearly no female was consulted in its design). I can still clearly remember my 18-year-old self, sporting a short-lived fringe, trooping off to my local post-office to have that photo taken. If only I had known how that picture would stalk me throughout my University career! That cursed picture never failed to prompt laughs from my peers (and occasionally library staff) whenever my SMART Card was produced. Even two weeks before Graduation, while enquiring after my degree result, one member of the geography staff electronically summoned up my personal file, thus my fringe was soon emblazoned on her computer monitor for the whole office to see. Oh the shame.
The schoolgirl in the photo provoked such a strong reaction, not just out of vanity, but because I was directly comparing her to my recently graduated self. My plastic self was yet to embark on her university life and I felt irrationally jealous that for the real me my undergraduate life was over. I feared that the excitement I once had would be lost as there was nothing new in Nottingham left to discover. Lord knows I’ve frequented a fair proportion of the city’s social establishments, but any future visits to my usual haunts would be minus the lovely friends that I have acquired over the years. I also understood that those lovely friends have managed to acquire real jobs in the real world, while I’ve been left behind, delaying the inevitable.
Subsequently though I have realized that I was probably being a touch melodramatic. I’ve recently “discovered” Radford as a refreshing alternative to the Nottingham which is found off Derby Road. Nowhere in Lenton could you see “Student House to Let – £42 per week, bills included.” For anyone who finds campus too sterile and Lenton Boulevard too dreary, I urge you to visit Radford High Street on a Saturday afternoon. It’s brilliantly busy and has an array of quality food stores which are in no way part of the Sainsbury’s family. Academically speaking (this article, like my life, tends to neglect the educational aspect of University) I feel I was just gaining momentum with my degree when it came to an end. I was dissatisfied with the idea of leaving Nottingham before I had exhausted every opportunity for undistracted learning and a Master’s course offers the student (almost) total freedom to study whatever they want within their chosen discipline.
Instead of viewing the SMART Card photo as an enemy to be despised, I now see it a bit like the “Before” picture used in Extreme Makeover (such an immoral but addictive show). The picture is badly lit, generally unattractive and the subject has no idea what’s in store for them, yet there is an optimistic hope that it’ll all be worthwhile. Luckily though, while I may have long ago shed the fringe, I still share that basic optimism with my photographic counterpart. Due to my unfathomable but genuine love for Geography, the process of metamorphosing into my “After” photo is proving to take a little longer than initially planned. But after sampling the Real World this summer and learning of the Ark renovation, I no longer think that’s a bad thing at all.
By Kate Lynch