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Friday, August 27

Rewriting What Has Gone Before

I hate having to type up something that I've already written, especially when the text was lost through absolutely no fault of my own. Nevertheless, this is the position in which I find myself at this point, since what I wrote in the internet cafe on Tuesday is quite interesting and worthwhile. Hence here it is in rehashed form.

'Twas on Saturday that I received an envelope in the post, the writing on it I half-recognised as belonging to one of my closest friends from back in Melksham. I was also aided in this recognition by the fact that I'd left her a voicemail message earlier in the week with my postal address.

I wasn't quite sure why she had asked for it, but the envelope went some way towards explaining her intentions. She had wanted to write me a goodbye letter! She still cared.

Of course, the contents of the envelope weren't from her at all. The cruel hand of fate dealt me another cleverly hidden hand...

On the outside of the envelope, sealing it, were two white labels, each with something written on them. The first quite simply said "Hello! Hello!" on it, but the second was more intriguing. It read (and here I am copying it from the envelope in situ, since it's still lying around in my room) "Rob - watch out! card is v. smudgable!"

Card? Smudgable? WTF?

I took it back upstairs and went into my room, just in case the contents of the envelope got me anywhere near being emotional. As a guy, you can't show weakness in front of other guys, right? Erm, yeah.

I was still thinking that whatever it was was from the girl I'd left the phone message for, but the second that I took the card out of the envelope (following the instructions to be light with my touch), I knew exactly whose hand had created it.

One of my very closest friends from back in Melksham, whom I've known for nearly 90% of my life, is hugely artistic, as well as being highly intelligent, beautiful and a fantastically nice person. She has a particular fascination with the colour blue, especially those blues that head towards azure and even a light turqoise. She has had this affinity for such blues for as long as I can remember, and uses them in almost everything she does artistically.

She is one of those kinds of people who always has something creative on the go. She makes invitations to parties, but not anything tacky or boring; each one is different, personalised for the recipient, and a piece of art by itself. Oh, and always with a flash of blue somewhere.

This time around, she made me a card.

I wish I had the cable for my camera, so that I could post a picture of it here, but it's been packed away, waiting in storage at my parents' house to be sent over to me in Germany. I still have the camera here with me, but have no way of getting the images from it to my laptop. The same applies to my phone: it's here, but the cable is long packed away. Stupid boy, Rob.

The card is glorious, beautiful and a joy to look at. She has taken various hues of blue chalks and crayons, and has used each one to create streaks of blue ranging from one face of the card, over the fold and onto the back face. It is, as she warned, highly smudgable, but I try to handle it only by its edges, for fear of ruining such an incredible piece of art.

It is not only nice to look at, though, since she wrote inside it. I won't repeat what she wrote here, because it is highly personal and meaningful for me. Yes, I do lay myself bare on this blog, but this is not mine to share.

When I first read it, I was choked. It didn't quite reduce me to tears, but I couldn't have been far off. She said some beautiful things, including a few pieces of advice which I resolutely intend to follow. She has this easy poetic flow in her writing, which I cannot hope to emulate, but the words seemed to carry such power in them.

I was moved to think that one of my friends from back home, whom I'd kind of lost touch with, would take the time not only to write to me, but also to create this wonderful little thing that now sits on my desk proudly (no doubt aided by the fact that there is bugger all else on the desk...). People do care, I realised.

It was time to show them that I also cared.

I'm terrible on the phone, and I find that email can be a little too impersonal, too bereft of feeling, so I decided to write a letter to both of the girls that I've mentioned so far in this post. They are the two friends that I've probably seen and heard from most in the past two years, plus I find the thought of writing to them relaxes me more than writing to a couple of other of my friends. It's not that I don't want to write to the others, but I feel that I'm closer to and more open with these two.

Fast forward to Monday, and I found myself on a Tube, heading towards King's Cross and the British Library situated nearby, having already stopped at a WH Smith's to buy some nice writing paper. I wanted to go to a library to write so that I would have no distractions. I knew that if I stayed at home, I either wouldn't be in the mood to write or would have no end of interruptions, both of my own doing or by the actions of whomever else was at home.

I'd not been to the British Library before, and it took me 10 minutes of aimless wandering before I chanced upon it. Yes, I'd looked at a map before I set off, but King's Cross is a building site at the moment, so it looks very different to the map. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

I walked in the rather grand front entrance of the Library (I'm keeping with the capitalisation for it), found a little leaflet with a map in it, and after getting a little lost again, this time with a map, I found an entrance to the Humanities section. I wasn't too fussed about where I was going to sit, but felt naturally drawn to the signpost containing Law on it.

There was also, however, another sign at the same place which told potential visitors that entrance to the Humanities section was strictly by reader's pass only. I figured that this was some sort of pre-registration that had to be completed on your first visit to the Library, similar to a library card at any other, bog-standard, library, so I checked my map, found the office for applications for a reader's pass, and headed there.

The process seemed automated, all done individually at a computer screen, but the poster on the wall as you walked in put paid to my hopes of getting a pass. It turns out that to be able to read any of the books in the British Library, you have to be actively involved in a research project of some sort, and also be unable to find the books elsewhere. Fairly hefty criteria, and nowhere did there seem to be an exception for those persons who merely wanted a quiet place to write a few letters. The bastards.

I decided to instead make my way to the University of London library, which I am granted access to by virtue of being a student at King's. The University of London (henceforth UoL) doesn't exist as an institution itself, but is the name of the federal institution to which all London universities belong.

Each and every student at King's, UCL, Imperial, Queen Mary's and other places of higher education in London will receive upon graduation the same degree certificate. We all get a certificate saying that our degree is from the UoL, rather than our individual colleges. Of course, certain colleges are better at teaching some subjects than others, so it is down to the graduate to tell future employers which college they studied at. Queen Mary's, for instance, is very much the poorer cousin of the more illustrious institutions like King's and UCL, but its graduates will get the same degree as I will.

Whilst UoL doesn't exist as a place to study, it does provide certain facilities and learning aids. It has the library to which I was heading, a careers service, an accomodation office, and also plays host to ULU (the student union), which all London undergraduates automatically get membership to. It's pretty much a bonus to have all of these extras, since King's provides all of them too.

I eventually got to Russell Square, where UoL is situated, and made my way into the impressive Senate House, home of the UoL library (note the small 'l'...). The registration was quick and easy (yes, shame on me for not having used the library at all in two years at uni), but once more I got lost trying to find a suitable place to sit down and write.

Eventually, I opened a door, found myself in a big, spacious but sombre room, and decided that this was the place to concentrate. There were lots of notices around the computers in the room, sternly reminding users that they were for "academic use only", and the entire tone of the room was one of studious silence. I felt bad whenever the floor creaked under me as I gingerly walked to a big table at the far end of the room. Why do libraries always have either squeaky or creaky floors?!

The first letter I wrote was to the girl who'd sent me the card at the weekend. It was initially a letter of thanks, and then I talked for a bit about shit that has happened to me in recent months. If you've been a regular reader here, you'll know all of it already. I closed by stating that I fully intended to keep in touch with her whilst in Germany, moreso than I have done in the past two years.

My final paragraph or two involved paraphrasing some of the advice that she'd given me in her note to me inside the card, in attempt to convey the same sort of meaningful, impassioned and emotive moment that she had done in her own letter, however subconsciously or deliberately. Again, I won't try to quote it here, because this was between me and her.

I popped out of the library briefly to ring her to get a postal address to send the letter to, but she was on holiday in Cornwall with her boyfriend, so I chatted to her mum for a few minutes. I've known her family for ages too; her Dad was a teacher of mine at school and the head of our Sixth Form. Her mum`and dad had also signed the inside of the card she'd sent to me, which was a nice touch. I got the address, and headed back into the library to write the second of the two letters I'd planned to write.

The first one had been a rather lengthy affair, extending to 10 pages in all (I ramble when I write, you should know that by now), but this second letter was to someone who I'd spoken to quite often, thus negating the need to write about what has happened to me.

This letter became very depressing very early on, and was quite morose and sombre in tone. I spent a good couple of pages apologising for not really staying in contact as much as I should have done, not just with her, but with all of my friends from back home. It wasn't so much a letter to an individual as an outpouring of regret and guilt onto the page. And there I was thinking that this blog served that purpose...

After all of that self-loathing, etc, I promised to keep in touch, however it may be, when I'm in Germany, and then decided to lighten the tone somewhat, so that she didn't come away from reading the letter feeling worse than she had before commencing with it. I can't remember exactly what it was I wrote about, but even if I could, I wouldn't reproduce it here, for the same reason as above. Some things are just too personal to be put here. Not much, but this is where I draw the line.

As I left the library, with the letters safely stashed in my backpack, I texted her to get her address. She replied with it, but also asked if I was going to be stopping off in Melksham at all before I headed out to Germany. I had to say no, and briefly explained that the letter was almost an apology for not doing so, as well as a general "Hey, I'm still alive" type of letter.

It pained me somewhat to know that I wasn't going to see any of those friends before I left for Germany, and I toyed with the idea of making one last fleeting visit to Melksham this weekend, saying the goodbyes in person and possibly shedding a tear or two. However, simple logistics and time constraints will stop me from doing so, unless I have a huge change of heart this Saturday.

I bought a couple of envelopes on the way home, specially for these letters. The envelope for the first one was of the exact blue that the girl loves so much, and I left a note for her on the outside of it, pointing it out to her. I haven't heard back from her just yet, which I believe is due to her still being down in Cornwall.

I got a text from the second recipient yesterday, thanking me for being "so cute" (a direct quote), and again asking if I was going to be coming back to Melksham at all. It tears at the heartstrings, it really does, to have to reply in the negative each time she asks. I will have to ring her this weekend and spend ages on the phone to her, chatting about this and that and whatever else.

And that was that. I still have one more envelope, as well as a big stack of writing paper, but I'm not sure if I will write another letter, or even to whom it will be. There are plenty of potential recipients, but I'm not sure if I want to write them a letter when I haven't spoken to them too much for a while. Conflicting responses are running through my mind at the moment, so who knows what I will decide to do?

I certainly don't.


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