I was running late as I locked up my flat and walked to the heavy front door of my building. Amid the piles of festive flyers and brochures destined for the recycling bin I saw a large white envelope, relatively thin and flimsy, with my college's logo stamped on the top. In my hurry I snatched it up and stuffed it into my handbag. Only when I was sat on the tube ten minutes later did I open up what I assumed would be a page or two of administrative waffle. Inside - now slightly scrumpled - was my degree transcript, detailing my module marks and my overall awarded grade, stamped with my college's seal. I was now 'Accidental Londoner BA (Hons) MSc'.
With as little ceremony as the entire miserable slog made to obtain it, my industry for my Masters degree was over. When I came down to live in London after I graduated going back to uni could not have been further from my mind. I was finally free of essays and late-night panics about writing 2000 words by the morning. I had no more exams to revise for. My life no longer revolved around lectures and an embarrassing addiction to Australian soap operas. I still had to work of course, but my labours stayed firmly within my office, and more importantly occurred during office hours only.
But then, as I began to form the beginnings of what might ultimately transform into a career, a nasty realisation hit me; to work in my industry of choice, further academic study would at some stage in the future be necessary. Without any thought of what it might do to my evenings or weekends, to say nothing of my mental stability, I decided to see if I could find a relevant Masters degree that I could do part-time, whilst I continued to work full-time to pay the bills. I applied to a course and was accepted. I despatched the first cheque covering tuition fees and bought notebooks and a pencil-case. With retrospect if I had had any idea how tough I would find completing such a course whilst working a full-time job there is no way I would have entered into it so merrily. But if I had truly given it the due consideration such a matter merited that Masters would still be a far off dream, a longer-term goal, whereas now (thank God!) it is over. My final submission made. Done.
Second time around my university experience was hugely different from the three years I spent in Durham working towards my BA. It was a lot less fun, that's for sure. I no longer lived with fellow students, indeed the sense of camaraderie between those who I was now studying with was nothing like that at my first university. We saw each other once a week for a couple of hours, but all had very different lives outside of those hours. University was no longer about parties and drinking. Indeed, university now seemed to curtail rather than centre around such activities. Weekends and evenings were no longer times to switch off and enjoy not being in the office; now they were consumed with reading for upcoming lectures and preparing for terrifying seminars in which I would have to present an argument in front of people who seemed to know far more about each subject than I.
Over this summer, as my friends made the most of the meagre sunshine the season bestowed upon London, I shut myself in a library dungeon and read books on civil war and writing a 10,000 word dissertation, wishing more than anything for a seat beside the river and a cold glass of Pimms. I consumed cake at an alarming rate to get me through the miserable days and crawled home exhausted from work to have to open my notes and begin again as my colleagues flopped in front of a proper dinner and night in front of the TV. Worst of all I had no time left for London. No more could I indulge in exploring the city.
Once my dissertation had been handed in however, I found I could finally get back to enjoying London. I had time once more to potter round markets, to run on Hampstead Heath, to meet friends for leisurely lunches, and to have the odd much-needed lie-in to recover after a novel night out. And I loved it. With the weight of study lifted from my shoulders I could now skip merrily around the city, pottering in and out of my favourite places and finding plenty of new ones. London, forgive me for forsaking you. I can only promise you that you will have all my attention now that academia no longer has any claim over me. I look forward to getting reacquainted in 2012...