After another gruelling six months of long-distance, transatlantic love, I was finally reunited with Catherine in mid-June, and had the pleasure of her company until mid-July. This gave us roughly a month to reconnect with each other, explore new places and see how the pair of us had grown since we last met, and it was absolutely brilliant. One (tiny) advantage of long-distance is that every time we see each other, it is genuinely exciting. 6 months apart is a long time, but it makes every single second we get to spend in person so much more valuable! We had a blast- I got to attend a conference at the University of Kent, where Catherine presented a paper and did great (I was so proud, but I needn’t have been- this her bread and butter!). This gave us a few days in Canterbury, and we did all sorts- the Cathedral, punting on the river, meals out… Honestly, it was the best start to the trip we could hope for. I’d never been to Kent before, and I have to confess that I was rather taken with Canterbury life!
We then returned to my native Warwickshire, where Catherine continues to seamlessly fit into the family, which I partly put down to a shared sense of mischief and humour. We befriended the many Alpacas at the local Toft Alpaca farm and coffee shop, and also enjoyed some great bites to eat out at Hilltop Farm Shop, complete with adorable ponies. We did endure some truly godawful meals out too- imagine an Eggs Benedict with a burningly acidic hollandaise sauce, eggshells and a texture of rubber and you are somewhere near just one of the debacles, but on the whole, food was pretty good. We did the silly things too, of course, playing cricket in the garden (Catherine’s pretty good and even has her own cricket bat, rare for an American) and a few long walks, including a trip to Brandon where we caught up with a pair of Hobbies and a horde of grumpy old people.
The final part of the trip was kicked off by two visits to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre, initially just to see Oscar Wilde’s Salome at the Swan, but we were so impressed that we had to come back for more, and thus Julius Caesar was duly booked. I’ll do a proper review for each play in a later blog, but Salome was incredible. I’ve seen plenty of plays and Salome must go down as the greatest I’ve seen. Matthew Tennyson was spellbinding as Salome, and I loved the gender-altered specifics of his role. Tennyson could appear vengeful one moment, and then like the weakest, most vulnerable creature the next. Tennyson wore a slinky white dress, and many other characters were in similarly androgynous or gender-bending outfits. Oscar Wilde would have been very proud of this great piece of serious, slightly queer, theatre. The singing was incredible- if you can, just go and see it, honestly. If you are clever (and 18-25), you can get tickets for just £5 under the BP subsidised ticket scheme. Julius Caesar was also very, very good, featuring plenty of gore, bodies and blood, together with the most shocking scene of theatre I’ve seen. I’ve never heard the entire audience at the RSC gasp like that before, and considering the number of tourists from far flung parts of the globe, the universality of that moment was gripping. Brilliant theatre. I’ll reveal what that moment was… another day!
Having spent an amazing few weeks with my family (thanks so much!) we headed off to London so that Catherine could attend another academic event, this time a 2-day seminar at Kings College London featuring a few students from the University of Michigan. I couldn’t sneak into this one, but I got to meet Jess and Lucas again, and see some pretty cool places. Catherine and I had a ball, nearly even in the driving wind and rain outside St. Pauls Cathedral, when google maps had broken. We explored Soho and Covent Garden, spent hours poring over books in enormous book shops and finding hidden gems (like Stanfords Travel Shop!) that we will surely come back to again and again. We met up with her close friends, Lilli & Haley, ate Sushi & Giraffe (or was that at Giraffe??) and explored art galleries and exhibitions. It was great! I’ve never been a huge fan of London, but this trip saw me fall in love with a city I used to absolutely hate. There’s an oft-repeated quote from Samuel Johnson that ‘to be tired of London is to be tired of life itself’- and I’ll drink to that.
Our last day together is always emotional, and I was a little worried that we wouldn’t be able to hold it together too well. It’s a tough old beast, long-distance. Instead, I had two important emails come through. The first was an invitation to a job interview for the Civil Service, that could see me pretty much raise what I need for the Master’s degree of my dreams. Something exciting for the future. The second was an email notifying me that I was to be awarded a commendation at graduation for contribution to the department, something that I am incredibly, incredibly pleased with. Something exciting for the past. Those emails patched over our sadness, and made us unbelieavably happy as we relished in each other’s futures with lashings of Turkish ice cream at Picadilly Circus. Bliss.
So I’ll be graduating from Exeter with a strong 2:1 in BSc Geography, coupled with a departmental commendation. I’ll admit to being a little bit disappointed that I didn’t get the First I’d strived so hard for, but after receiving that email I don’t think I care one bit.
After a truly, truly magical month, we said our goodbyes on the Tube in Bethnal Green of all places, and I’m pretty sure we mostly held back tears this time (easier said than done, my friend), which is a great success, all things considered. I zoomed off to a selection day for the International Citizen’s Service, whilst Catherine zoomed off to catch her flight back to beautiful Ann Arbor. But we are happy.
She has plenty of reading for her PhD to be getting on with, together with an important fellowship. I need to get ready for graduation, attend my job interview in London and prepare to move out from Cornwall, so there’s plenty to be keeping us both busy.
Excitingly, this week I’ll find out whether my ICS application was successful- if it was, I might be spending October-December in Senegal, Liberia or Sierra Leone.
Could I FINALLY be on my way to Africa?