So, here I am on my last day in London, about to fly back to Krakow tomorrow evening. My daughter and I have been here for two weeks, instead of the one week I originally planned. The idea was to help her settle into her university Hall of Residence, before leaving her alone to the big, bad wonderful world of student life. Hmmm. But nothing ended up going according to plan. Two weeks into the Michaelmas term, and she is only just beginning to find her feet.
Right from day one we faced adversity. Nothing dangerous, thankfully, like being attacked at knife-point, as was the case with her poor mum. (C’est moi – and if you can’t remember the ugly event, pray re-read my earlier blog, Danger! Avoid that Corner!) But pretty unnerving, all the same.
So why isn’t my beloved offspring well ensconced in her new student life by now? Why isn’t she making friends, walking to lectures in lively groups of other Law students, going for coffees afterwards, laughing and chatting and socialising and tucking her arm through a newly made best mate, as she has longingly seen so many others do?
The answer is simple. In one word: accommodation!
Okay, fellow students and ex-students who might be reading this. I have a question for you. When you embarked on your student life, did you settle into your chosen Hall of Residence (or dorm, as the cute Americans would say) with graceful ease? Did you locate your allocated room on Day One, unpack your things, sort them out into drawers and cupboards and desk, insofar as you were able to sort anything out within the limited space available, and then, once all that was achieved, set about establishing new routines, new friendships, making your modest surroundings into your new home?
That’s the general idea of what should happen to a new university student, right? And, generally speaking, it does. But how about the following scenario for a variant on settling in nicely, or being attacked at knife-point on your very first day of Uni life.
You arrive at an impressive Regency building, long-since converted into London School of Economics accommodation. You smile at your approving mum, who happens to love Regency style and is already feeling just a wee bit envious of you and wishing she were a student all over again. You step inside the spacious foyer, head for the Reception counter, drop your cumbersome cases on the floor with an exhausted sigh of relief, and you register with the nice man behind the counter. Both you and your mum are holding your breath, hoping upon hope that you will be allocated a room on a higher floor, at the front of the building, overlooking that small but lovely, willow-filled park.
And then you hear the words: Here is your key. Your room is on the ground floor.
This does not bode well. But you take the key all the same, glance nervously at your mum, and the two of you lug your bulky luggage along to your ground floor room, hoping at least it will be at the front of the building, with all that greenery and sunshine to behold.
It is not. There is no greenery and there is no sunshine. Not a jot of it. The room is like a prison cell. Cell Block Number 9. It is at the back of the building, with iron bars on the window, overlooking gutters and drainpipes and miserable dark brick walls, with litter scattered across the grim concrete ground. It is like something out of the Poor Houses from Charles Dickens’ time.
And then there are the washing facilities. Rotting wood in cabinet corners, ugly stained toilet bowl that looks like it might have been used by the waifs in the orphanage where Oliver Twist unhappily dwelt. The sink is totally icky, to use my daughter’s terminology, as is the ancient shower. The tiles above the mirror are cracked. The ugly pipes and walls and floor are old and stained and not fit for human habitation. It is like something out of a horror story. Hollywood should rent it out for their next gory production. I can just picture it: blood dripping from the menacing bars on the window; a garrotted body hanging from the wonky wardrobe that refuses to close properly, another body slunk into the stained shower cubicle…
I can’t live here, my devastated daughter says with tears in her eyes.
How on earth could any student be allocated a space like that? How is it fair that the majority of students are on the wonderful front of the building, on higher floors, with green views, which is why we selected this particular Hall in the first place, and my daughter ends up in a space like that?
Okay, so let’s fast-forward. Lots of tears and outrage and phone calls and emails to various offices ensued, all with the urgent plea for my daughter to be changed to another room. And when this finally happened, two days later, the new room turned out to be only marginally less gloomy than the first. This one could have been hired out for a dreary family TV drama rather than a Stephen King horror story.
The damage had been done. Our confidence in this Hall of Residence was broken. My daughter had to move out. And fast. It was still Freshers’ Week, but lectures had already started.
So then came the drama of being placed on the Accommodation waiting list, and in the meantime over-staying our welcome at my best friend’s apartment (she insisted she didn’t mind, but did she really expect the sorry saga to last as long as two weeks?), and me losing my credit card and Polish ID, and getting a nasty chest infection which resulted in a trip to Accidents & Emergency on account of stabbing pains … and each day my daughter continued to gaze longingly at other groups of students who strolled into the lecture halls in twos and threes and fours, laughing, chatting animatedly, all of them already having bonded with each other at their various Halls of Residences…
But okay, enough doom, gloom and despair. You’ll be relieved to note that there’s a happy ending to this story. I managed to retrieve my credit card and Polish ID from London’s glorious Lost Property Office, and my daughter was finally offered a room in another Hall, on the seventh floor of a modern building, with a panoramic view of the London skyline from her window, and lots and lots of fellow LSE students to mingle with. Bliss!
Actually, my daughter is moving into her new Hall today. In fact, I’m sitting on her bed right now, drafting this blog while she’s unpacking all her things. Tomorrow I can go back to Krakow a happy woman. About to start my new life. No more children at home, no more cats (all dead), no more hubby; just me and my dog. The adorable, snarling Floppy, who hates everyone except immediate family members. Meaning there’s only one family member left for her to follow around the house now. Until Christmas, when the whole gang descends upon me.
But hang on – this isn’t about the break-up of my marriage. I’ve already written MORE than enough blogs on that despairing subject! And besides, Errant Hubby and I are getting on so much better now, after almost a year apart. He’s been looking after the dog and house while I’ve been away, and I’ve been keeping him posted on our horror story experience. He’s been very sympathetic. Might even ask him out for a drink when I get back. If I’m well enough. Wouldn’t want to infect the bony Philosopher.
So, when I say goodbye to my daughter tomorrow afternoon, and return to Krakow in the evening, and step into my old, silent, crumbling house by the Vistula river, and Floppy jumps all over me in unsnarling joy, I shall smile with a heavy but relieved heart. And whisper to the stars: Mission Accomplished!
And now? Well, that’s obvious, duh. Now the rest of my life begins.
Which way New York?