Last week an overseas student invited me over to her flat for dinner. As soon as I walked through the door I noticed a very meaningful atmosphere. Instead of dining t?te-? -t?te, she hand-fed me from a bowl as I lay on the sofa, putting her warm greasy fingers deep into my mouth. It was not unpleasant, but I didn’t want to put her to all that trouble and offered to use a knife and fork instead. “Relax. Is my culture,” she insisted. She made no small talk. She was wholly absorbed with the process of transferring the food from her bowl into my stomach. If I took a sip from my wine glass, she took a bottle from the fridge and topped it up immediately.
When the bowl was empty, she disappeared into her room, then reappeared, wearing her national costume, and performed a suggestive dance in front of my face. As I reclined there, wondering whether I was hallucinating, it dawned on me that all I was expected to do to reciprocate was to make the smallest gesture of encouragement, like making a bid at a fine art auction, and I could have the full business for the rest of the night.
I’m trying to join the middle classes. I was a dustman, but after a few years the joke wore off. It reached the point where I not only knew where every dustbin in the neighbourhood was, and what it looked like, but I could also predict what would be inside a lot of them; whether to expect ashes, disposable nappies, gin bottles, company reports or maggots. It got boring. I found myself retracing my own footsteps so exactly each week that in places the grass was worn away, resembling one of those visual aids for learning the foxtrot. There must be more to life than this, I thought. So at 34 I jacked in the bins, did two A-levels at the local tech, and a year later joined the throng of new barbarians surging through the breached defences of our once exclusive universities.
The term “mature student” suggests, among other things, that age will have lent assurance and poise to those choosing to go back to school later in life. Whatever they may lack in gaiety or quickness they will make up with stability and composure. In my case, I was so bewildered and upset by…