DOUGLAS THOMSON gives the first in a three-part series about the reality of what it’s like to degrade.
I got home a few weeks ago to settle into what only can be considered a self-exile. In a slumbering Northern town with limited connections to any real settlements, it quickly turned into a house arrest. Everything had changed, apart from the ridiculous amount of time spent on Facebook. After much consideration, I think I’ve finally made a Good Decision, even if it wasn't for entirely the right reasons. So what have I done, you might be thinking? I ask myself that question every morning.
I have degraded. Rendered all the, ahem, ‘hard work’ since October a folly of what I can now call my ‘Gap Year’. The kind sovereigns of Cambridge are letting me get my shit together and start again next year, an option only available to those with medical conditions or under 'extreme circumstances'. The process couldn't have been simpler. First I scattered some meetings with my DoS and Tutor, allowed this to simmer as concern grew, and finally dropped in a one-on-one with the Senior Tutor. A week later I handed in a brief letter containing not much past the date of departure and my name. It was official. With the advisers to the court successfully pacified, it was down to the physician to call my bluff.
Looking back over my academic career, the journey to my downfall, and the signs of chronic procrastination, started long before the frilly towers of Cambridge became my horizon. At school everything went swimmingly for a while; being a student with at least half a brain meant that most of my assignments were completed in a flash, usually during lesson time. Then I hit a hump: History coursework.
This dreaded beast needed time and effort, something I only wanted to exert on getting a girlfriend (I was fifteen and the hormones were running wild). I decided to slay it during the witching hour. My weapons consisted of a steaming mug of tar (three to five teaspoons coffee, milk, sugar to taste), HB pencil, fine line biro, and an iron will. The battle was won at dawn, but the seeds sown for the war to eventually be lost. I learned that night the sweet taste of chemical stimulation, the beauty of a world asleep, and the it's-cool-i'll-do-it-later-it's-not-even-midnight-yet-and-this-film's-well-good mentality. I lost my all-nighter cherry, and I liked it. The giddy highs of sleep deprivation were flowing through me twice a week. Working during the day was a fool’s game when expanses of useful time unfurled at sun set. Fuck you, time management.
I don’t know if the drinking and drugs made much difference. I started smoking during my GCSE exams, drinking that summer, the rest of the year full of spliffs, powders and pills, the year after that a habitual stoner smoking every day. With a family history of depression I should have been more careful but my late blooming adolescence was attacked feverously like a bad episode of Skins. The motivation to achieve diminished; any obligation to work for my teachers had died after years of strutting through education.
When the final exams came round and I was faced with real-life Hard Work my happy world imploded. It was like the immovable object and the unstoppable force. Shamefully I was dragged kicking and screaming by my parents, scrapping marks that I should have just hoovered up, and somehow made it to Uni. Fresh faced and willing to change, I tried to leave my bad habits and non-existent work ethic at home. Michaelmas was gonna be my bitch.