College Boy | Pushing the Wave

College Boy

Opinion, 22 March 2024
by L.A. Davenport
Kings College Cambridge
King’s College Cambridge in 2013.
The theme of reflection and recollection, which began with a trip to Paris earlier this month, has continued this week, but with memories of rather a different kind.

My university days are far, far behind me, but they have come back to me in a flood over the past week or so as I got myself ready, in all senses of the word, to attend a college reunion this weekend; the first since we graduated in the mid-1990s (gulp!).

A while ago, I talked on here about my struggles being a student from a less privileged background, and the prejudices I had to face as a result, as well as the awful and pernicious lads culture that stained our social life at university, and to which I shamefully participated.

This time I have instead been thinking about those fretful first few days when I arrived, a fresh-faced, callow youth from the East Midlands.

I still remember, with laser-like clarity, the drive down in my sister’s car from our modest end-terrace house in Leicester. That and the slow tightening of the knot in my stomach as we turned off the motorway and headed through the countryside towards the city that would become my home for the next three years.

Cambridge appeared initially as a collection of buildings nestling between trees on the other side of a large field, and it seemed, from that viewpoint, as if it was merely a village. How could a place that small, I wondered, possibly hope contain all my hopes and dreams as I stepped out of the shadow of my childhood and ventured into the unknown?

By the time we had navigated the one-way system and finally reached my college, I was a bag of nerves and only managed to find my way through the riot of novel sights and sensations to the Porter’s Lodge and retrieve my room key thanks to the utmost concentration and application. I passed seemingly hundreds of soon-to-be fellow students on my way and marvelled at how confident and relaxed they seemed. How would I, could I, ever become so at ease?

And then I was alone.

I watched my sister’s car pull away through the window of my lonely room, and I experienced a slow dawning that, aside from a few trips abroad to see my father in France, I was away from home without the presence of my mother for pretty much the first time in my life.

I wasn’t a spoiled kid, and I certainly wasn’t a mummy’s boy, but I was extremely shy; when I didn’t know what to say or do, I was withdrawn and monosyllabic, if I managed to speak at all, and I could barely look anyone in the eye.

Although I had plenty of friends at school, and then at sixth form college, I never socialised with them outside of the educational environment. Even when I worked at my local hospital during my gap year, you could count the number of times I went to the pub with my colleagues on the fingers of one hand, if that.

And yet there I was, not even having undertaken a school trip or friend’s holiday to ease me into self-reliance, embarking on my student career.

It occurred to me that I had no idea how to handle myself in a social situation. Worse, I had no idea how to start a conversation with someone of my own age, and I certainly didn’t have any notion of what we would talk about even if I could.

While I lingered over my bags, unpacking them at a pace that could be generously called glacial, I listened intently to the other students running about on the other side my door and going up and down the staircase next to my room, all the while talking excitedly to each other and laughing loudly. They were present, alive in a way that I could only envy.

Alone in my room, I died a little inside.

Eventually I realised I could put it off no longer, and so I emerged into the half-light of the late afternoon. My immediate neighbour, with whom I would form a tolerable friendship with over the next few years, was also leaving his room. He saw me and said something clever but friendly by way of greeting.

Consumed by fear and self-doubt, I said something flippant and stupid in response. I instantly regretted it, and continued to regret it, along with many other maladroit utterances I let fly in stressful moments, for years to come.

Having made my leave of my slightly shocked neighbour, I wandered aimlessly around my college before managing to endure, by just about keeping a lid on my rampant anxiety, my first trip to the college canteen, Then, overwhelmed by exhaustion, I retired to my room and went early to bed.

It was an inauspicious start, but within a few days I was ready to let go a little, especially as I was acutely aware that I was missing out on those crucial first getting-to-know-you days.

So one evening I steeled myself and headed to the college bar, just a short walk from my room.

I hovered at the top of the stairs, sure that I would turn and flee, but finally managed to force myself down the steps and into the social unknown.

Thankfully, that fateful moment, when I forced open the doors and stepped over the threshold, marked the beginning of a new phase in my journey in life, and led to friendships that I treasure to this day, as well as others that I hope to rekindle this weekend.
Having last week announced the forthcoming publication of both Pushing the Wave 2017–2022, my collection of the best of the first five years of this site, and the entirely new, first-person edition of my first novel, Escape, The Hunter Cut, I am extremely proud to announce that the latter is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Behind the scenes, I am working hard on two new collections, and a novel, which I hope will see the light of day over the coming year or two, as well as continuing to work on a play that is edging ever-closer to completion. But that is not all! There is much, much more to come. Stay tuned!
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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College Boy | Pushing the Wave