Well…. I actually got accepted into University. As of September, I’ll be going back to school to study an MA in Archaeology.
I’m excited. Also nervous – I was 18 when I started my last degree and the difference between how I feel now and how I felt then is stark. I remember only one mature student from my time before – a lovely woman, if somewhat distant – and I’m beginning to worry that the distance she experienced was not voluntary but enforced. It’s not as though I’m going there looking to find friends – I’m very much going to learn – but I’m also acutely aware of how lonely education can be if there aren’t people to share your passions with.
But let’s focus on ‘excited’. And transport. Because I live approximately an hour and a half from the campus.
I’ll know more about my schedule in July, but if my last arts degree was anything to go by, teaching hours will be minimal. I sort of hope so, because it’s a heck of a commute to do every day!
I do have a few options. As it’s only myself travelling, I do have the freedom to walk the hour to the nearest bus stop. I can hypothetically cycle too, but my bike is a European back-braking city-bike – designed for Hamburg streets, not Aberdeenshire hills. In order to cycle with any regularity, I feel as though I would need to trade my bike in for something with (at the very least) gears in order to tackle the not-insignificant hill which leads to the nearest village. Once at the village, I can then choose between a bus and – miracle-of-Beeching-surviving-miracles – a train. The train is fast, but expensive, and I would need to undertake another hour’s walk from the station to campus on the other side, whilst the bus is painfully slow but cheaper and – ultimately – more direct.
I’ve spoken with my family about possibly purchasing a small, second-hand electric car, but I just don’t feel like the charging infrastructure is there yet – hardly unsurprising for the oil capital of Europe, but I can hope. And of course, there’s the option of the ‘banger’ – a cheap, ancient car which limps along between fixes. Hardly green or economical.
Before I go any further, I know that this is, as my husband would say, a ‘luxury problem’. I’m talking through a myriad of transport options for accessing voluntary, expensive, higher education. I could make points about how many people have to make this journey daily for employment purposes and don’t have the easy option of ‘if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just get an old car’. I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in and I fully appreciate that. It is beyond frustrating that there isn’t an affordable, easily accessible public transport infrastructure up here – arguably where people need it most due to hugely scattered population and centralised services….
But I digress. This is where we’re at.
During my first year of studies – because Covid – much of the learning will be online anyway, so I’ve pledged not to purchase a car until at least year 2, by which point I hope to have proved to myself that I can absolutely do without one.
My plan at the present time is to cycle while the weather is conducive to using my heavy, gearless bike, then walk through the worst of the winter months. In an ideal world, I’ll take the train – because I’m still a child who loves the romance of trains at heart – but I’ll inevitably end up taking the bus because money.
If I’m being entirely honest, the environmental impact isn’t the main driving force behind my decision. Yes, it’s definitely part of it, but what swayed me, was the ‘dead’ time spent on public transport. Since mobile phones came into common usage, we’ve been expected more-and-more to be ‘on’ at all times. We need to be ‘doing’ in order to be valid*. Using public transport will – for me – carve out a time in which I can’t do anything other than read. I’m still using my Nokia 3310, so I won’t have access to the internet for the entire journey, and I won’t be behind the wheel so I’ll be free to let my mind wander as I enjoy the countryside.
In addition, it’s going to help me work exercise into my day. I’m someone who very much benefits from exercise in terms of my mood, but I’m also someone who never makes space for it. Hopefully by making it a necessity, it’ll keep me going.
Obviously, all of this could change in the coming months, but for now, this is my plan.
If you’re a cyclist and you have any advice for me, I’d be super keen to hear it. I already have the helmet, high-vis vest, bike basket, and waterproofs. My friend has recommended a set of solar bike lights with a decent charge life, so I’m excited to research them. Any words of wisdom beyond that are thoroughly appreciated. I’m especially interested in how to keep my ears warm in the freezing winds which are still – in May! – bringing sleet and hale.
I’m going to get my bike out and make sure it’s all in working order then have a few ‘trial runs’ into the village. I’ll let you know how it goes.
For now, much love.
*If you’re interested, Jessie Gender does a whole incredible video about the nature of work that I would definitely recommend… even if you’re not a Star Trek fan.