“What’re you doing?” MindReader says, exasperated. We’re at the tip. I am reading the categories of where to put the waste very carefully. “Cardboard, no plastic” – what about half cardboard/half plastic boxes?
“Reading the rules,” I say.
“You do the coffee machine,” he says, pointing to the boot. “I’ll do the chest of drawers. Then we can do the box together.”
I look at the box after he’s gone, the pages inside curling up in the breeze. There are my degrees, in that box. All of my notes on eighteenth-century mad women, on feminism and Freud and Lacan and easements and profits a prendre in gross and Tess of the D’Urbervilles and equity and trusts.
I saved a few first-class essays, of course I did. Saved a couple of notes passed between MindReader and I in lectures when we were falling in love. But the rest… I don’t need it. The University of Birmingham are not going to take either of my degrees off me. I don’t need to keep lecture notes about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (please shoot me in the head if I ever find myself studying that again). The law is out of date; the textbooks I’ve kept will tell me what I need to know – the online resources more so.
And yet, I’ve hung onto them, for all these years, since I graduated for the first time in 2006.
I was a student for a very long time. Three year degree, one year law conversion course, and then I did the first half of the professional legal course, got glandular fever, did the second half later, and then, obviously, didn’t really work for a while. So I’ve been a student, or no longer a student but not yet a professional, for a long time.
But moving on is cathartic. I’m a professional now. I earn a wage. I am not going to have my qualifications retracted. And, I want to live in a house which is not full of the past. I may no longer get to traipse home from autumn lectures at 3pm, eat beans on toast and hang my rain-damp jeans on the musty-smelling radiator to dry. I may have to concentrate all day and not arse around on the internet and not always do things on my own terms. But there are so many plus sides, too. Weekends off; brunches in the sun, Sunday afternoon baths which always used to be accompanied by Thomas Bloody Hardy or, later, Chitty on Contracts. I have more money, now, of course; my jeans are new and not as frayed. But it is more than that; I really, really like working. I like sitting in a morning meeting and speaking a lot. I like making to do lists. I like the structure and socialising and the law.
And, while I skimmed over a few of my old essays and felt my past self to have out-smarted my present self, I am so much more than the sum of my degrees now; there are so many more things worth knowing than theories about dystopian literature or even about contracts. How to concentrate. How to be productive. How to give work to a secretary. How to rally yourself in the office at 8pm. How to stick to a monthly budget. How to work hard – much harder than at University or in 9-5 summer temp jobs – on things that matter and get a sense of satisfaction and importance so deep and authentic I wonder how I ever lived without it.
I quickly throw the coffee machine into the “small electronics” section (wishing they had defined “small” in a recitals section of s sign somewhere) and make my way back to the car. Together, MindReader and I heave the enormous cardboard box containing five years’ worth of my best, most intelligent thoughts into the “soft paper waste” section. I watch as a few of the pages lift into the air, their corners flapping. I see the odd word – the odd sub-heading. “Good/Evil,” I see written in my familiar scrawl. “The Male Gaze in Foucault’s…” “Overreaching interests- is this…”
“Bye degrees,” I say, while MindReader gets back into the car.
“You know what?” He says as I shut the car door behind me.
“Hm?” I say, still thinking of my University days.
“You are the only lady at the tip wearing a tea dress.”
“Yes. That’s true.”