Sometimes I start to feel trapped by being at university. I begin to panic that I still have four and a half years of being an undergraduate, and I scour the internet desperately looking for an affordable house to rent next year – even a rented studio flat would feel more like home than a single room in a building of 400 people.
I felt that way last night, and got myself into a bit of a state trying to find some way to escape from living like this. I’m not really sure what causes this sort of panic. I think it’s partly an inate desire to build a home, which for me is symbolised by having my own kitchen and more than one room to call my own. I don’t want to have unpleasantly noisy neighbours on the other side of a thin wall, and I don’t want to share a kitchen or a bathroom with 18 other people who don’t understand basic hygiene.
But this morning I got up (after the delightful 5.30am fire alarm – another thing driving me out of here) and cycled to tutoring. Just getting out of the usual student bubble tends to help, and having an income, albeit a fairly tiny one, makes me feel as though I’m working towards that kitchen. On the way back I was cycling through the meadows and, perched on a branch over the partially-frozen river, I saw a kingfisher. It sat for several seconds before swooping off further down the river, onto another branch. I pedalled slowly and carefully after it and tracked its journey for almost a full minute before it suddenly darted back the other way.
A little further on, sitting beside the cycle path in the park, was a bird with a crest sticking up on the top of its head. I think it was a great creasted grebe; at times like this I regret not taking more interest in birds as a child. At any rate, it was a bird I don’t often see and it sat for quite a while before hopping off into flight.
I’m not sure why seeing these two birds made me feel better but it did. Perhaps it’s because they provided such a lovely contrast from the daily monotony of textbooks and judgments. Maybe it’s because I recognised that I’m not really trapped – I can get on my bike and cycle out of Cambridge, I can see beautiful things and I’m only here for a short time. Maybe it’s just that I like brightly-coloured birds with funny hairstyles. Perhaps it’s just that fresh air and exercise cheer me up even when I’ve only managed seven hours of broken sleep for several nights in a row.