PhD Creative Writing Lancaster Blog Entry, Pete Kalu
28 Sep 14
So the departmental Welcome Lunch is hoving into view. It’s a long way to go for a lunch – Manchester to Lancaster. What if it’s cheese sandwiches? Should I eat beforehand? – I have heard of all the cutbacks at Universities. Then my supervisor – or one of them – might sit next to me. How to make small talk with the supervisor- is it possible? Maybe s/he will ask about my thesis proposal and I will immediately expose the shakiness of my knowledge, the flaws of my proposed approach, my own complete inadequacy as a human being to undertake the research. Perhaps I should sit next to a fire alarm switch – I can whack it if the worst comes to the worst.
I’ve been on the campus twice and it’s a labyrinth. Finding the registration building (all buildings at Universities named obscurely) will mean throwing myself upon the kindness of strangers. I guess I will be doing a lot of that over the next six months.
I need to dig out the PhD Proposal to find out what it is I am meant to be doing, form a plan of attack and get at least as up-to-speed with it as my Supervisor may be. I have umpteen versions –both hard copies and electronic… The Proposal, revisited, looks so fiendishly complex, I don’t know how I thought of it, let alone proposed to take it on. There is one glaring error. I spot it in a panic through all the Proposal drafts. Only in the last draft does the error disappear. Close shave.
29 Sep 14
Somehow I have no map of campus but lots of friendly folk are around and direct me. There is a Byzantine parking system, with hierarchy (“Staff”. “Visitors with Permits”. “Folk with £5 in change for parking meters”. “Me”.) I am parking’s bottom feeder. Surely they will cut me some slack on Freshers Week? I park up, uncrease body and cross fingers. Welcome Lunch, the invite said. I am hoping for luncheon – white-tailed waiters in gloves serving silver tureens of French onion soup followed by fruits du mer. Find Seminar Room, where Lunch reputedly to take place. I glance left and down and see bread rolls with lettuce on table. As dream of silver service melts away, am greeted by two Professors. They both recognise me, and take time to chat. Am grateful and awed and careful not to monopolise them – about 50 people are milling around and I’m the new kid on the block. I join queue for the buffet lunch and meet sharp hair-styled woman with crumbs on her plate, from which I deduce she is returning for seconds. Am reassured by this – buffet is at least not poisonous. We chat a little in that way perfect strangers do, about our course, what we are studying. Then I meet another student with equally sharp haircut, second year of his studies and TS Eliot specialist. Have a good laugh over TS Eliot’s life story, how he had to be rescued from life as a bank clerk – poetry didn’t pay then, doesn’t pay now. (He got his revenge later with that ‘Cats’ musical). I move on to meet four Masters students of English/Literary Studies. They seem bonded and happy. I ask them what’s the best thing about campus? The fields they say, you can go for lovely walks. Worst thing? Phone reception! Which is the best network here? O2. I coax one student into disclosing she has had a short story published. Something in her manner tells me she’s bristling with talent. A glass is tinkled and the Faculty Staff introduce themselves one by one. I have this strange feeling of being back at secondary school – it’s just after dinner time and, doped up on steam pudding, we are easy targets for long speeches. Luckily, the Profs keep it short and one Prof most kindly throws in where we can all find the next free lunch.
We are swept up and, with Prof setting pace, we speed to the Faculty to learn how the Supervision system works. I try gleaning what I can about the other three research students who are trotting with me behind the Prof. They are all civil, they all have good haircuts. As I catch my breath, the Professor whizzes us through Creative Writing PhD routines, shows us the shrine / portal where all our work and notes etc need to be left for professors and peer group to variously mull over, praise, dissect, suggest, reflect upon, curse, sift and shuffle. People pass by, say holla to the Prof as we go through stuff. It seems like a very friendly faculty, but perhaps they are all on their best behaviour today and the carpet is usually red with blood. Professor puts me at ease regarding my own research project – no sudden revelation of new mountains to climb, I have plenty mountains as it is. He makes me feel good. Humming, I head off to find my car. I realise the campus is shaped like a darts board, with the heart of it – the busy buildings – at the bull’s eye. My car is at dart board number 19. Find it no problem. And it’s not clamped. I drive off campus into meaty M6 traffic jam. Excellent. I do my best thinking in the bath and in traffic jams.