My Big Day Out – as a Mature Exchange Student – in England

There are two journals relating to fhis: ‘Le Journal de Eunice’, and ‘Campus Lìfe’.

The first blogs my lead-up to being acepted as an Overseas Exchange Stuďent. I really badly wanted to study in Italy. I love all things Italian! But if I went to the UK I would only be a traìn journey from my elderly parents, and could spend time with them. That really is another story ( Title: What’d She Say! Tom.)

Campus Life began wìth one large plate glass window, anď a violent storm, and concluded in front of another even bigger glass window, bearing a cut oùt circle the perfect shape of a soçcer ball, and an open suitcase full of shattered glass!.

Herewith is one of of my first experiences…

At my age, things soon knock you about.  I got up my courage to climb on the inter-campus bus for the 15-minute trip to Crewe campus, it being my day off.  The bus shelter was blocked by three coaches, disgorging teams of hockey and soccer players, come to knock the bejazus out of our lot.  I was not going to stay and watch in this weather.  With a sense of deja-vu, I showed my brand-new student card to the driver, and climbed the curving steel stairs to the upper deck.  Nothing had changed, except for the brighter furry seat coverings.  This was one of the really old double-deckers we used to go to school on, its yellow paint muddied by the to-ing and fro-ing of the country lanes every hour or so.  The driver must have been new, because he got the dinosaur of a bus stuck trying to manoeuvre out of the car park, which was crammed with huddled hatchbacks, none of which was likely to move to let the monolith lumber through. 

In a longer time than the actual trip itself, the bus finally reversed back to the bus shelter, found a clearer and wider lane, and set off again.  No one cheered so it may have been a regular occurrence.  He hit the speed bumps with a vengence, at an angle, and caught me unawares.  I left my seat involuntarily, and landed again without grace (she probably wasn’t on the bus, ha ha). The windows were running with condensation left by the previous passengers, and I cleared a circle to try and catch a photograph of the buildings I have loved on my other bus trip to Crewe station.

The residents of Hassall Road must have finally got tired of students in cars hooning out of the campus gates and down the road, or vice versa from the pub, because the road is beset by small half-islands in alternating waves, which the traffic has to weave in and out like a computer game.  The bus did well, but any more and I would have been seasick.  The sun broke through and shone on my face for a few moments, before remembering where it was and going back behind a cloud, but it was a nice reminder that I lived in a sunnier place.

We are off! Past the salubrious and dignified homes of Hassall Road, a right turn on to the Crewe road, past a sign to ‘Cranberry Lane School’ (now surely a school with a name like that would have lovely children?) and up to a rare set of traffic lights, next to a sign pointing to the M6 motorway, but we continue on, our lane becoming more winding and narrow.  We soon go under the overpass of the M6, its traffic tearing along busily on the straight route.  We get a warning sign saying ‘l/\/ (winding lanes) for 3 miles’.  I hang on tight.

We pass a centuries-old russet tumbled brick cottage on the left, its greenhouse now covered in plastic sheeting instead of glass.  Do they self-sustain as in days of yore?  There are lots of signs of yore around here.  They were good builders in yore.  We reach Crewe Green.  More houses of yore.  My camera can’t click fast enough to capture these jigsaw puzzle pictures.  The Domesday Book website tells us that:

Alsager

Eleacier: Earl Hugh.

Town. A mill, farm and hall mark the Domesday site on its outskirts.

Was listed in the Domesday book, which was written way back in yore.

I am hungry to go and see and touch these links with history, a subject I shunned in my youth.  It blows my mind that particles of clay mixed with water, and baked in an oven, can have provided shelter for centuries in one spot.  Granted a great deal of repair and renovation has gone into these edifices, but the roots are still whole, and that amazes me.  The website quotes:

Bartholemew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles, (1887) described Cheshire thus:

“Cheshire, a palatine and maritime county of England, bounded on the northwest. by the Irish Sea, and bordering on the counties of Lancaster, York, Derby, Stafford, Salop, Denbigh, and Flint; extreme length, northeast and southwest, 58 miles; extreme breadth, 40 miles; average breadth 18 miles; area, 657,123 acres; population 644,037.
Cheshire forms, towards the Irish Sea, a flat peninsula, the Wirrall (12 miles by 7 miles), between the estuaries of the Mersey and the Dee, and inland a vast plain separating the mountains of Wales from those of Derbyshire. This plain is diversified with fine woods of oak, etc, and is studded with numerous small lakes or meres. A low ridge of sandstone hills runs north from Congleton, near the east border, and another extends from the neighbourhood of Malpas to Frodsham, near the estuary of the Mersey.
The chief rivers are the Mersey with its affluent the Bollin, the Weaver, and the Dee. The soil consists of marl, mixed with clay and sand, and is generally fertile. There are numerous excellent dairy farms, on which the celebrated Cheshire cheese is made; also extensive market gardens, the produce of which is sent to Liverpool, Manchester, and the neighbouring towns.
Salt has been long worked; it is obtained from rock salt and saline springs; the principal works are at Nantwich, Northwich, and Winsford. Coal and ironstone are worked in the districts of Macclesfield and Stockport. There are manufacturers of cotton, silk, and ribbons, carried on chiefly in the towns of the East division; and shipbuilding, on the Mersey. Cheshire contains 7 hundreds and 503 parishes, and is entirely within the Diocese of Chester. “

The whole area would get lost in the Hunter Valley, NSW in a space between Newcastle and Singleton, but it is busy bustling area indeed, with plenty of lovely tree-studded, and sometimes tree-filled land.

Right now our bus passes a silver birch wood, or so I judge.  The small trees stand straight, with only the knobbly knuckles of dark wood and their silver toning giving me a clue to their type.  I can’ t wait for spring to start these trees budding bright green before my eyes.  Again, though, I am struck with the stark beauty of winter trees against the sky.

‘>>>’ suddenly warns a set of arrows, and the lane veers sharply to the right.  One wonders if the arrows might not be better a few yards back, before one nearly drives straight through the unforgiving hawthorn hedge.  Just as suddenly, the lane opens on to the mess of a modern roundabout, and buildings under construction.  It is like emerging from a time tunnel and blinking at the light.

The sign says ‘Crewe town centre’ straight on, but our bus tilts over to the left, as it steers sharply to the right, and in a few seconds we are at our destination: MMU Cheshire campus.  More old interesting buildings, but I have had enough for one day, and follow the crowd walking to town. 

I am in search of a mirror that I can put at head height in my room, and I have £10.  It is not the fault of MMU that I am not in a wheelchair and therefore at the correct height for all the mirrors in Westfield Flat.  It is definitely disconcerting to have all the mirrors mirror the one area of my entire body I most wish to avoid – my middle, and even worse, my big end (as they say in motoring circles).  It is proving salutary, this constant focussing of mirror on my least popular parts.  My hair is a mess, since I have to bend to waist height to see how it is looking.  In this weather, it is not much of a problem, but to uphold the image of my University as a place of people of culture and good grooming, I stride out, in my stretch blue denim jeans (with elasticised waistband), in my new trainers and thick purple socks, hiding two sticking plasters where the blisters used to be. 

I am thinking everything is very dark today, as I tread boldly along the bicycle track towards Crewe town centre.  To my left gleams the Mecca I have been hoping for; a huge new B&Q hardware warehouse, placed just where I would have wanted it.  Ten minutes walk from the bus, ten minutes back, maybe fifteen now I am tiring. It is even conveniently placed on a dogleg pedestrian crossing.  I nearly baulk here. There is a lot of traffic whizzing off from a huge roundabout, and I press the button.  Next to me is a light showing the red man walking.  No go.  This is the only indication of what I am to do.  While I am looking out at the traffic it has changed to green man walking, and I hastily step on to the crossing, trusting in God.  I am half way, on a bridgeway, and B&Q beckons brightly, all friendly orange signage, one of which says, very largely, ‘coffee shop’.  They’ve got a deal!

Somebody knew I was coming, for they have marked the route through the car park with yellow lines, and I have a path to follow to this glowing cavern full of treasure.  Spa baths, on their ends in nests of cardboard, are on special for £299.00.  I want one!  But I have only ten pounds in my purse, and I will not go near a money machine, I will not go near a money machine, I will not…..

Finding a white plastic-edged bathroom mirror seems like the proverbial needle, but it is all so fascinating, and I could build a whole house from the things I see and like.  Starting with a full-size conservatory I can take home on the bus in a package.  Now that would go well just outside the window here, so I could put two armchairs there and watch the sports field.  Silly me.

I am watching the hanging signs, and they are clear to read, in huge letters.  ‘Bathroom accessories’.  Yes!  Bathroom mirrors?  Yes!  White plastic, cheap? Yes! Yes!   Two choices. Oh dear.  Very bad to give a Libran a choice of two.  I weight the pros on cons for about ten minutes, which should have given all the security cameras in the shop time to get into focus on me.  I like the cathedral style, but it doesn’t give a good all over impression of the head and shoulders, which look vaguely unfamiliar, having been missing for ten days now. The circular mirror is large and functional.  I pick up the cathedral shape, and start to walk towards the checkout, but the scales tip, and I turn back for another look.  I mean, I am only here for ten weeks, I am not redecorating Buckingham Palace.  I go for large and functional, and the coffee shop.

4.99 in dollars is a bargain.  In pounds it sounds cheap, and that is what it would have cost in the Reject Shop, but converted x2.38 dollars, that is a high price to pay for a clear view of the wrinkles on my neck.  The deal is done and I have had my retail therapy.  I walk out through the checkout and to where the coffee shop is, but the doors only open outwards, in case someone sets fire to the chips and we need to evacuate.  I want in, I want coffee, I want it now!

I walk along to the other entrance, the doors swing open automatically and the alarm goes off before I even set foot in the place, but I am on a mission, I am holding their bag, and I have my docket.  Now give me coffee, with sugar, and milk.  I must have it, I’ve been good, I deserve it, it is mine, it is here somewhere.  Above me the sign ‘Coffee shop’.  Big orange sign, white large letters.  White large coffee,that will do nicely.  One girl serving slowly, two people waiting.  My hopes dim.  A sign to the right shows the toilets, so plan B in action.  I check my diary and find the bus returns to Alsager in 25 minutes.  So can I do it in the time?  I go to the ladies.  Very nicely appointed, as it should be as an indication of a building trade showplace.

Back in the coffee shop she is still bumbling around at no great speed, so I abandon all hope and leave the building.  The security cameras can find another body to follow.  I repeat my steps, and wonder how far along this path I came.  I also realise that the day is actually far brighter than I thought, once I remove my glasses, which have darkened automatically with the UV light.  Wow, it’s quite bright out here!  I’m doing well, with the spring in my step being provided by my new trainers, but the backs of my legs are in pain as usual, and my bones are starting to hurt. Following the students off the bus I was 20, half way to B&Q I became 25, across the crossing and I was 30.  By the checkout I was 45, the coffee shop 50 and by the time I got back to the bus stop I am definitely 58, and could have been 70 by the time I was now shuffling to the Wesley Centre cafeteria, back on campus. 

I had finally found ‘Martin’s Café’ open and used my meal card for carrot and coriander soup, with bread roll, and a huge cup of dark coffee that even three of those putheringly stupid little milks couldn’t brighten.  I was now 40 again, sitting there, eavesdropping.  Definitely drama students on the next table.  They can’t help trying to attract attention. 

It’s been a long day, and it is only 1.50pm.  Time for a nap.  Some of the teams are passing by, heading for their coach back to their own campus.  I am tireder than they are.  Back in my room, the open vertical blinds show orange and scarlet clad hockey teams locked in battle.  It is raining gently.  They don’t notice, and in my room it is nice and warm, and my new office chair has arrived, courtesy of dear Lynne Pitt, who has done so much to make me feel at home.  The waiting typing chairs means there is no time for lying down, I have to write about this day.

It isn’t that I did anything very exciting, it is that I came 12,000 miles by myself and did it at all.  I can’t see where I am going very clearly, but I go.  I don’t know where I am, but I get there, and more importantly, I find my way back.

Today, some rich person went out and bought himself a Mercedes, and I bet he feels good.  I made myself get on the campus bus to a strange place, and I feel better.

#change of tense is deliberate at the beginning and the café scene

Related: Ĺate Blooming Love

By Eunice C English

Writer, artist,retired. Have Parkinsons Plus and Macular Degeneration so please ignore typos! Gathering some of my memories and writings into one place t share with you.

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