Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Vaseline-Covered Coat

Last week I met an old college friend. We went for a coffee at the horrible Press Coffee shop on Buccluech Street, where a glorious bookshop once stood. I told him I didn’t drink coffee or tea or alcohol and he chortled at the ineptness of this decision. I gave him my usual spiel about coffee and alcohol bringing out the worst in people, losing conviction in my argument, flopping into general nonsense about my writing and so on.

As he left, I felt a pang of nostalgia for that period. Then something odd occurred to me. I’d always felt a pang of nostalgia for that period, even when I was going through that period. I was so conscious of having a “university experience,” those I’d seen on TV or heard about, that I spent the entire time sheened in a Vaseline-covered coat. Even when I was having a miserable time, I look back on the period with beams of delight.

It took me a long time to realise there was a difference between what was supposed to be good for me and what was actually good for me. Going to university was both appalling and amazing for me. I had the worse and best time of my life. (Sometimes at the same time, which isn’t easy). Meeting my friend has helped me divide my memories of that period into two boxes, rather than getting emotional for an imagined past.

I think it’s important to remember the low moments on top of the highs. Looking back on a sad time helps me humph through whatever curveball life has thrown at me, and I can get on with things. At the same time, if I block out the good times, my capacity for overall happiness and contentment gets diminished, so I try to garnish those moments too.

My foremost goal has always been to break through the confusing haze of everyday life. I don’t have a clear understanding of what it means to be a human, so I take solace in the searchings of others, trying to find their place in a chaotic and smelly world.

(On the plus side, Press Coffee has delicious muffins).


  1. I so relate to this post. Being human is futile in my book and meaningless - the Bible told me so. The best we can do is enjoy the ride while it lasts and create things for which the rest of existence might remember us by.

  2. I very much know what you mean about university days. It took me about year to get over the fact that there would be no fascinating book groups on sunny lawns, or philosophical debates in steamed up common rooms. By the time I'd downed the obligatory number of pints, I suddenly realised I really hated it and it was far too late to do anything about it. Thank Elvis for growing up and realising what actually makes you happy, eh?

  3. Jen: Yes, old Ecclesiastes is a tough read. I often wonder if I'm too young to write anything significant, having lived such a narrow life, but if I angsted too much about that I'd never write anything.

    Sian: Ha! Yes, exactly. I really wanted walk the quadrangle, discoursing on Joyce with a professor or two, but nope. Thank Elvis, indeed.

  4. See, now... I adored college. Everything about it, pretty much. I knew at the time, and still think back on it as the only time I got the freedom of an adult without the responsibilities (other than to learn--and even the 'requirements' I wasn't much interested in, I STILL felt a proud mastery about (other than Art History--I usually opted for pints at Renny's instead of going and barely passed). I think my expectations though, were probably different--I'd come from a very small town with very pedestrian hopes, and so college easily exceeded that.

    Damn. Now I want somebody to pay my bills so i can go to classes and drink a lot.

  5. Although I drink alcohol it is only ever one or two, but I'm right tyhere with you on tea and coffee. Unfortunately I fall back on cola which possible as more caffine and sugar than all the lattes in London.
    However, I kind of liked uni... it might have helped that I stayed at home and travelled in, thus buying out of much of the social depravity expected of an Arts student.

  6. Hart: That's true. My expectations were ludicrously high. I thought they'd give me my own bust.

    Jennylou: I missed the social depravity too. I found commuting very difficult and it wore me down after a while. I've learned never to commute for more the 20 minutes. After that, it's time-thievery.

  7. I definitely know what you mean about university being the best and worst time. Great time.

  8. You call it time-thievery, I call it a chance to finish the reading for class I should have done the night before but chose not to cos there was something good on tv.

  9. Hi Chris! Bye Chris!

    Jen: I took naps. Reading on trains is an enviable skill!