By trade I’m not a morning person. This is an understatement: If found interacting between 6 and 10am the primal grunt tends to communicate any of my pressing concerns. Thus arriving at 8 o’clock in Cambridge for a university interview was not my idea of ” a jolly good show”. In fact I wish I’d appreciated the landscape more now. Stepping out of the car it was truly beautiful in red brick towers against perfectly manicured lawns- the sort of grass that makes you want to kick off your shoes and charge like a gleeful toddler over the “keep to the path” sign. Bleary eyed I decided to seek caffeine first.
It had been a rather chaotic sort of morning-having been reading Chaucer under a hotel radiator for a significant part of the night I’d woken up a little rusty, frantically forcing down toast complimented by a shot of that weirdly nice UHT milk from Premier Inn. At quarter past 8 a student union girl was leading me towards a waiting room. She was tall, immaculately dressed and, I noted, a veritable morning person.
Closing the door It was a beige place that smelt of air freshener. As it turned out I appeared to be the only non inanimate object present, taking a seat next to a fellow dining chair. From the amount of food they had out it was clear the university was expecting a small army. The fold out table in the centre looked as strained as I felt under a cornucopia of bourbons and custard creams and for a moment I questioned whether there was a stage in the interview I hadn’t been aware of-Perhaps one that involved a group of teenagers fighting to the death over a French fancy.
I killed time looking through my interview schedule, which happened to involve a 2 hour wait before my second of two ten minute appointments. In short: I prayed for company. Gradually people arrived. They came and went; Spanish, French and English voices all merging together in a nervous babble. The boy chanting algorithms had flown in from China, the little girl to my right from Japan the night before. Hovering in the doorway parents perspired anxiously, one such who with a dramatic sigh swept into the room and began combing the hair of her unfortunate offspring. The words “how are you feeling?” echoed by other such mothers from the hallway outside.
It continued. At half 8 I took an aptitude test next to a girl who introduced herself as “Si-AN” adding fervently “It’s iambic.” She gestured graciously to the boy next to her “This is Caspian.” Safe to say I had strayed a little outside my comfort zone…a world in which it is acceptable to shout “Oi Oi” at a passing friend from a 40mph Ford Fiesta.
As it happened nobody I asked had been timetabled the same 2 hour wait, so after the exam I returned alone to the beige room, finding it completely empty and anticipating the slowest time passage of my life. For a good ten minutes I did everything I could to take my mind off the interview- that ritualistic ripping apart of the personal statement followed by the question “This is a piece of paper- how does one go deeper.”
Instead I ate my life’s weight in custard creams, I counted the trees out of the window, I planned my funeral, I blew bubbles… I was just considering lying faced down on the carpet when I realised there was actually another person in the room.
From behind a stack of chairs at the back of the room there came a wet sneeze, quickly stifled. Mad with boredom I shot up like an agile David Attenborough to survey my catch. At just over five foot and hunched skeletally over a rubix cube, a tiny male creature could be found squashed in the gap between the wall and a chair. I stared rather taken aback. From his rhythmic rocking backwards and forwards he gave the impression of someone that didn’t particularly want to communicate with the human race. Long strands of dark hair stuck caveman-esque to his forehead, all oddly incongruous with the expensive suit he was currently using as a handkerchief.
As a good friend of mine once said to me- God loves a trier and so with hours to waste I gave it a shot and attempted to break past the barrier of silence.
“Er..ahem.. Hello. Are you alright?” Looking down I was half braced for a claw to the face and the hiss “my precccious.”
For a moment nothing came. I stood awkwardly.Then slowly as if the whole process was beneath him, he lifted his head and looked me in the eye; pinprick pupils magnified doubly by a pair of glasses. He was, and I hate to say it, utterly terrifying.
His waxy, pale skin was devoid of life as he shuddered in my direction, not offering a reply but instead attacking the rubix cube in his lap with long white fingers. During this time he refused to break eye contact, twisting the squares round with an unconscious frenzy. Click. Click. It was a large room. The high ceilings echoing the sound around the empty chairs where luckier individuals were being grilled elsewhere.
Behind me the door was shut with 1 hour 46 minutes remaining. Slowly I returned to my seat-If I wasn’t as mad as my colleague before I left it would be a miracle.