Mind the gap

It’s ten years since I left home and went to university in London. I’ve started thinking about who I was then, after my gap year.

I was essentially forced into taking a gap year. King’s College London had rejected me and I wanted to try again.* To complicate matters, my parents moved me and my brother to Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria. That felt a long way from Bolton and my mates.

First on the agenda was getting a job. My brother and I went round Lancaster handing out our paper-thin CVs in every shop. Shockingly, none were interested in my A-levels in English, philosophy, religious studies and law.

We ended up getting zero-hours contracts at a hotel near our new home, working in the restaurant. The kitchen in the evenings was a pressure cooker. It was perfect training for the Daily Mail newsroom, where I would eventually start my journalism career.

For several reasons I was not happy around that time.

The breakfast shifts were tough. On Sundays, TalkSPORT had a programme about fishing that began at 6am, when my radio alarm went off. My heart ached to the opening soundtrack, Fisherman’s Blues by the Waterboys. It’s about longing to run away from your troubles on land – in my case, a moribund long-distance relationship (she’d gone to uni in Bournemouth). But instead of tasting the salty tang of seaspray from my vessel, I was soaked in the filth of the hotel sink. I was often on potwash.

The other day I was listening to an old Spotify playlist I’d made containing every song that had ever meant something to me. I was working out. I’d skipped a few tracks when Fisherman’s Blues started playing. I looked around. I squeezed my eyes at the cat who’d come downstairs to see me.

I thought about how different things were now. I’m engaged. I’m in therapy. I devour audiobooks. We have a garden. I work in a job that ten years ago would’ve seemed an impossibility.

Without wishing to oversimplify things, it got worse before it got better, and then it got a lot worse before getting better again. Now I take the waves as they come.

*I got into King’s at the second time of asking.