After nine months in the student halls of Dinwiddy House, based in the star-studded Zone 1 area of London, my contract was finally set to expire, and my time in the capital would come to an end- at least for the first year, anyway.
Ahead of me was one final week of noise eroding the paper-thin walls, kingdoms of bacteria evolving in the neglected pots and pans of the kitchen, and the omnipresent paranoia of the fire alarm going off at any point.
It wasn’t just the end of a tenancy, but a lifestyle.
That doesn’t mean to say I’ll miss it, as living in halls was an experience I’m not keen to repeat too often, but leaving certainly meant I would be parting with a lot of the small pleasures that come with living in London.
For my last week I didn’t have anything too dramatic planned, rather it was just to wind down from the academic year’s events, and start thinking about how to productively spend the summer.
I had my last Tesco shop on the Monday, and it was fascinating to compare receipts from the start of the year to see how drastically my shopping list has changed. Gone now are the ready-meals, the infinite supply of biscuits, and the heaps of processed food. Now I’ve started buying bundles of fruit, and as many natural ingredients as possible. Training for the marathon and taking gym work seriously caused me to concentrate closely on my diet, and the results can be very rewarding.
I’m definitely enjoying this new sense of control, although once you start looking closely at what you eat, you realise how difficult it can be to control your daily sugar intake. This has been an issue amplified by the USN Anabolic Muscle Fuel protein powder I bought for my marathon tapering period, which contained 17g of sugar per serving. The high protein and carbohydrate count used to be good when I was loading up my energy reserves, but now that I’m trying to embark on a fat-burning phase I need to switch to something a bit lighter. As such, I’ve ordered the very popular Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard which contains a much higher ratio of protein, and as little as 3g of carbohydrates.
In conjunction with the nutritional side, I spent a large part of this week milking the very last drops out of my one-month gym membership. Now I’m not going to get carried away by any means and act like I’m some sort of gym-junkie, experienced dietitian, bodybuilder, personal trainer, or any of the relevant titles, because I’m far from it. I think myself to actually be rather hilarious to watch in the gym and swimming pool, bearing in mind that every exercise regime I do stems from brief research, and then a considerable amount of trial and error. I’d like to think I can properly swim once again, completing a nice two kilometres on Thursday, but at the same time there’s plenty I still have to practice. The best example being when I tried to do one of those underwater somersaults by flipping and kicking off the wall, only to completely miss and effectively end up spinning uncontrollably in the middle of the pool.
I remain as slow a swimmer as I do a runner, as people still torpedo past me while I try to find a rhythm- but we’ve all got to start from somewhere. Well, I really shouldn’t consider myself such a beginner now; that all changes once a man orders Wii Fit U.
A Noble Farewell
With the week progressing, I was fortunate to take part in one last basketball session with Paul and the gang before most of us headed our owns ways for the summer and beyond. In unusually warm and sunny conditions, we had another blast playing 3-on-3. As always though, we had a laugh, had a good workout, and I did one of my fingers in- the definitive morning’s play. Afterwards we decided to go and eat at a nearby restaurant, and after a solid twenty minutes of looking around the back of Dinwiddy for a place that accepts card payments, we went to a Vietnamese place for lunch.
I had one lovely tofu baguette, and enjoyed a great talk with the gentlemen that are Paul, Charlie, Hao, Oliver, and Tom. A massive shout-out to fellow IJ1er Charlie for putting my baguette on his credit card- what a guy.
Once we had eaten, we walked up the small hill where Dinwiddy waited on the left, with Paul Robson on the right. We said our goodbyes, wished each other a nice summer, and off we went. I’m very glad I played with those guys this year, and I especially learnt a lot from Paul. I have met a lot of people this year, but formed very few friendships; although he’s going off and beyond the realms of SOAS, I’m pleased to have been able to call him my mate.
Sparks of Enchantment
On Wednesday I had one last mandatory piece of “work” remaining for the year, and that was to attend a meeting ahead of this summer’s JLPT exam where once again I shall be working as an invigilator. I’m pleased to announce that I’m moving my way up the invigilating ladder, and will be the head invigilator for N2 level candidates in a couple of weeks time.
For the meeting, I donned my best attempt at smart-casual despite the immense heat, and listened carefully to refresh my memory of all the procedures outlined in the invigilators’ bible. It was during this meeting that in spite of the noise from outside making Mrs Jones borderline inaudible, I got to immerse myself back into a genuine environment where I could use Japanese. God knows how long it’s been. The entire meeting was done in Japanese, and I didn’t have to think for one moment about memorising the correct grammar or vocabulary, or even the right answer to whatever question we would usually spend lessons following in textbooks. This was an environment for which I had decided to undergo a Bachelors’ in Japanese in the first place, and it was immensely refreshing. As I stated last week, it’s been quite saddening to feel disenchanted with Japanese this year, but in a real environment, without a care in the world over one’s capacity to speak to an academically-defined standard, I felt just a little bit of that magic once again.
The following day, I had arranged to meet Risako who had recently moved to London for an internship. It was once again a genuine environment, where I could just talk properly for the sake of having a conversation with a good friend, and not worry too much about sounding like an idiot as I inevitably would do so anyway.
I gave the typical University of London tour, and then we went to a nice restaurant near the campus. What was particularly nice was having someone with a fair knowledge of the geinō-kai, so as you can imagine it wasn’t long before we were discussing Ninety-Nine and variety TV shows. Alongside that, I always find it pretty cool when the conversation can flow in both English and Japanese. Her English is borderline impeccable, so regardless of what language we had a good chat, and a good laugh.
Once she got back on the train, I made the walk back to my flat while experiencing a remarkable sense of deja-vu. It was 10pm, and the daylight was just about gone, but the city felt alive and energetic. In the midst of the summer heat, I felt myself reliving similar experiences from the very first few nights in London. I walked around the buoyant nightlife, got asked if I smoke weed, and was even wearing the exact same outfit from the day I first moved and got destroyed on Tequila with Kibo and Emilio. Minus the latter part, not a lot had changed on the face of things, but you have to really give it a think to properly gauge what has changed and what has stayed the same.
As a person, my outlook on life, my interests, what motivates me, and my view of the world and those around me is a lot more developed than this time last year. These changes have been for the better; I am fitter, and more motivated. Happier? That’s not a question for this year. There are many questions that cannot be answered when I’m only a quarter of the way through university.
On the other hand, I thought I had lost my drive for Japanese. But no; it’s a rocky relationship, however one that remains unchanged. It only took a couple of days in the right environments to remember that, because I forgot the fact that being in a classroom for a year would irritate me to the point where I would begin to question myself. I’m still hopelessly obsessed with nineties music and television, and inspired to try and master the language as best I can. Better still, I’ve been speaking with a few friends from previous years lately and remembered just what great friendships are waiting on the other side of the globe. I think about the prospect of my year abroad now, and it excites me very much. It’ll be the golden year in my undergraduate life. I do want to go back to Japan, and that alone ensures the magic is still very much present.
In the remaining two days, there was nothing left for me to do in London. I had seen every sight that needed to be seen, used up every penny of my gym membership, and of course concluded every piece of work for the academic year.
Even without the aid of the gym, thanks to James letting me copy his Insanity Workout videos from the start of the year, I still had a means of burning off my hefty pizza from Thursday night. Now this workout certainly requires an extensive warm-up, because going into it cold after a dead sleep was enough to absolutely bleed my calves. In the warm climate of my room, the forty minute exercise gave my body one hell of a shock.
These routines are great for short bursts of taxing exercises to build muscle and burn fat. My calves are still sore to the touch three days after that workout, so I aim to try and acclimatise to this new area of endurance once I’m fully recovered from the last session.
With the week’s exercises ticked off, Friday signalled the next phase in moving out. With two suitcases to fit everything in, I began the long pack. Dinner that night consisted of me using up every last ounce of food I had stored, before washing up every utensil to go in the suitcase. Slowly but surely, my room was being restored to its previous blank state, which meant dismantling the artwork that was my pinboard for 2016/2017.
Once Saturday came around, all remaining loose ends were tied. I had one mega breakfast in order to use up all the milk and cereal I had left, and then embarked on one last trip around the campus before departing. It was just before leaving that I briefly saw James and Alex in the kitchen, where I said I would be back soon to finishing cleaning and say my goodbyes. He didn’t know if he would still be in by the time I got back, and that ended up being our last meeting. Still though, for all the difficulties I’ve had in my flat this year, I was fortunate to live with James. A wise head, with a great drive for his work- I learnt a lot from him, and he’s a great example to follow. He’ll go on to do great things, a true gent.
As I made my last campus walk, I felt the more relaxed mood of London amongst the easy summer heat. These streets were bright once more, vibrant with colour. The dark frost of the winter a mere shadow of a memory. I felt myself walking not to the tone of success, but to one of perseverance. It’s been the story of my first year, a motif that has run down the spine of just about every adventure.
The campus itself was quieter, but some things still continued. The appetite for activism retains its vigour even when most students are away, as the student union had occupied one of the main buildings. The Hare Krishna monks still continue to serve their free meals, even with a much smaller queue than before. The campus felt like a strange mix of continuing on, but while recharging its batteries. It’ll be ready for when it all begins again though, and so will I. I walked through the plaza knowing I would come back ready to do the business again in the autumn.
And so, it wasn’t long before I was back in my room for one last time. Now it was all but completely bare, stripped of all the memories for someone else to come in and create theirs. It no longer felt like the same room which had accommodated Emilio, Kibo, Gianni, and Ethan. It felt weird to think it was the hub where I welcomed Jack, Rob, and Joe after the Pokemon European Championships. It was a room where so much had happened, but the memories were there for me to take out with me, rather than leave behind. At 2pm, I surrendered my card and keys, and locked the door on room FGB4 for one last time. I caught Atilla on the way out, said my goodbyes, and left a note in the kitchen. The man at reception wished me all the best, before I carried my two suitcases and duvet out of the building. I had left Dinwiddy, for now.
I have the option to return for my fourth year in 2019/2020, but until then, there will be no fire alarm paranoia and no daylight-robbery at the washing machines. I leave this vibrant and energetic community of hundreds of students from all reaches of the globe for another day.
Now to get back to Maidstone, and just when you think it’s all over, there was time for one last grand adventure.
The walk to St Pancras was roughly a third of a mile, but very quickly I had to keep stopping to regain some strength in my quickly deteriorating arms from carrying two full suitcases, a rucksack, and a duvet. Worse still, one of the suitcases had one of those corner handles which meant I could only drag it along with me. It took a bit of time to hurl my possessions around, but there was plenty of time to catch the three trains required to reach Hollingbourne.
My first train took me out of London, and back into Medway, Strood to be specific. It was there I was immediately reminded that the 11-17 year-old demographic still very much exists. Nevertheless, it was not long before I would head to Maidstone Barracks where I would then walk over the bridge to Maidstone East for the train to Hollingbourne station. Unfortunately as the stations got smaller, so did their facilities, and it became one proper ordeal trying to get everything up the stairs to switch platforms.
After two hours of hopping stations, I was faced with the last 1.5 mile leg from the station to my home, which I had ambitiously opted to walk myself with luggage still very much in hand. At this point my muscles were failing, so my breaks got longer, and the possible distance I could cover each time got smaller. Things got tricky when I had to walk on the country roads due to a lack of pavement, and then took a turn for the worse when I literally had to chuck my suitcases over the gates. The road was endless, with the heat relentless; it was the hottest day of the year. Soon I was hunched over, running on fumes because I was terrifically exhausted. It was a noble adventure, and one full of more dramas where I then took my first hitchhike with a lovely family passing by. I had previously resisted offers from many other drivers, but soon learnt to appreciate the locals’ tokens of kindness. I was even offered a glass of water from a kind old man who opened his front door just as I stood there catching my breath on his doorstep.
It was a fun little drive down the road, I had a laugh with the family about my adventure, before they then pulled into one of my neighbours’ drive thinking I knew them. The bloke loaded my bags outside their house, shouted “we’ve got a delivery for ya!” and was then immediately back on his way. This left me to explain my rather strange situation to the perplexed neighbours, but we had one lovely chat, and they lent me their trolley for the final few yards back up to my house. It was then, with some extra wheels, I arrived at my own front door in style. It was a truly fitting adventure to round off the year. We faced adversity, and overcame it in our own unorthodox style. What a hike.
We’re back in Medway then, and the summer is now truly underway. Ethan has one more week of exams before we’ll most likely be back out into the summer night towns, which in turn will soon be graced by the tunes and fumes of the Warren Whip.
I may be late to the party, but we have many months of freedom ahead of us. We’ve worked so hard this year, and very much deserve a good break. It’s been well earned, and so we can say it now with more relief than ever: it’s summer.