An Oxford Morning
SEVEN MONTHS LATER
I was fifteen when I read an article in a newspaper headlined ‘Student Life: An Education For The Modern Stone Age’. It was full of the sort of shit you’d expect, but the message it sent was pretty clear: If you don’t know what to do with your life then go to University.
Remember when your parents told you that school was the best time of your life? Well when they said that, they meant University. They just can’t remember anything else before it.
Picture a place where the onus was on you to live. To push the boundaries. To drink more than you can remember and sleep with whoever is willing. It was unlike anywhere else in the world, a home where you built the memories you would reminisce on.
If you’re my age and like me then any moment from now your parents are going to suddenly corner you and ask a question you can’t possibly answer: “What do you want to do with your life?”
What do I want to do? Shit I don’t know. Does anyone know at my age?
What you need to remember is in that moment they don’t need details. They just want to hear that you’ve got a plan. Trust me, when that moment happens just tell them “I want to go to University”. They’ll probably be proud.
Conor J. Martin
The air was fresh as Conor Martin set out for his morning run along the Oxford riverbank. The footpaths were empty at this time of day, which suited him fine. He was always one to prefer running alone.
The gravel crunched under his feet as Conor picked up the pace from the gentle jog he’d taken through the streets near Gloucester Green.
The sun was rising above the fields to the east of the City, resting low on the horizon and giving a picturesque view of the Oxford skyline.
Conor’s thoughts turned to his breathing, steady and deep as he pressed on, the light breeze blowing on his back giving him a gentle push. His mp3 player thumped dance music into his ears, helping him keep a regular beat and focus.
Day five had started well. Conor was finally beginning to feel settled. His enrolment at St John’s College had completed the day before, leaving him to enjoy the twilight hours of Freshers’ week; three days and counting before his first lecture.
He was set to be taking a degree in the Foundations of Computer Science, three years of extensive study. Not that he found that daunting; Conor didn’t really have an issue acquiring knowledge, it was knowing what to do with it that seemed to be the problem.
He had started applying for Universities six months ago, a decision pushed by the insistent questions his parents had bugged him with throughout the summer.
When it came to searching he stood by his motto. Aim high, aim far. It had served him well.
Oxford was the oldest University in the English-speaking world. Getting accepted had taken four applications, three interviews and more than a dozen sleepless nights in uncertainty.
Conor lifted his head to look down the bank and check the path ahead; it was clear but for the occasional dog walker. The canal to his right was peaceful and still, empty of the row boats that would soon occupy it. Beneath his feet the terrain felt rough and uneven, but the view made up for everything. He only wished there was a route like this back home.
Conor was born and raised in Leicester. He had spent his entire life living with his parents in the same mid-terrace three bedroom house off Vancouver Road. It surprised him how little he missed it. This was the first time he’d spent any real time away from home but Conor already felt the freedom that came from having his own private space.
Tennyson House was a halls of residence situated less than a mile from the University campus. It consisted of four floors and housed 160 single study bedrooms. From the outside the building gave off an almost gothic feel, with old brickwork and late eighteenth-century architecture. The windows were single-paned and bordered with Victorian design. Conor imagined it to be listed, perhaps once a Museum or Hospital, most likely protected under national heritage. It was full of history and character. The hallways throughout were carpeted with a rich cream and blue fabric and the walls were painted with magnolia, making it feel clean and fresh. Conor’s room was on the third floor. It was a decent size although perhaps not as spacious as he’d hoped. It had come furnished with a single bed, a basic desk, a small wardrobe and an en suite bathroom.
Tennyson brought with it a distinguished reputation, a credited history of famous tenants and a famed view that looked out onto the Castle Mill Stream. On his first day he had found the whole experience intimidating, the scale and the prestige. But after his fourth, Conor’s new home was beginning to feel comfortable. He was enjoying the simplicity of making his own decisions without his parents authorising his every move.
Conor was now an only child, and his family’s history was pained by a tragic loss. He was five when his younger brother Alex died from leukaemia and ever since Conor had had his parents’ complete attention; perhaps at times more than he could bear.
When it came to showing them his acceptance letter, he was greeted with a mixture of emotions. They were thrilled for him on the outside, his mother had even helped Conor pack his bags, sparing him of any tears or clichés. But he could sense the fear in their voices as they wished him luck, and felt it even more so in their over-protective hugs. Conor needed to leave the nest, he had a point to prove, and this would be good for him and it would be good for them as well.
Oxford was over a hundred and thirty miles from Leicester. It had taken close to an hour and a half to drive in his dated Vauxhall Astra, the journey blowing away rust from under the wheel arches and leaving a trail along the M1. It gave him the space he needed to grow and ensure his parents couldn’t drop by unexpectedly if they missed him. This was his chance to show them that he could stand on his own two feet.
So he set out searching for a fresh start and with three commitments made. The first was that he’d keep up his running schedule and maintain a level of fitness whilst at Oxford. The second, that he’d call home at least once a week to keep his family at a safe distance. And the third… He would go into this with an open mind.
University life was an opportunity to mix with people that he would have otherwise never met. A mass of cultures, varying ages, endless variety congregated within an epicentre of activity. He would go into it with his eyes wide open, be understanding and accepting of difference and try everything at least once.
Conor’s adrenaline had now pumped through his veins and warmed him under the morning sun. Time had passed and the light breeze that had once pushed him along was now cooling his face on the return journey.
By 7.00AM he was ending his run with a sprint to the finish, his heart pumping nearly in sync with the music that willed him along. Sweat streamed from his forehead as he finally slowed to an upbeat walk.
Conor panted for air as he looked out at the City, giving a moment to appreciate what he’d accomplished and wondering what memories the next three years of his life would have to offer.
Have you read A Game For The Young?
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David P. Philip