Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 18

Aged 53, I’m going back to university in the autumn. And it’s made me think about how this is different to when I first started life as a student back in the eighties. 

Here are some of the things I (hopefully) understand a little bit better these days:

1. Boys are humans too. Yes, really. They’re not actually all that different to us. I understand that today. Sounds obvious, yes, but, sadly, I was slow on the uptake there. And on much else beside.

Work of the devil

2. Layered haircuts are the work of the devil. Avoid at all costs. Once you find a decent hairdresser, bond with her for life, but, ideally, without frightening the poor woman. It’s not her fault you’ve had to learn this one the hard way.

3. The journey of self-discovery does eventually lead to greater contentment and peace. Am not really interested in discovering anything much these days, except maybe what we’re having for tea.

Triumph of the toasted sandwich

4. Despite everything I was told, I wasn’t really at university to study English literature. Or even to find a willing victim boyfriend, my other great obsession. The real journey was finding out what mattered in life, what didn’t. Like working out that toasties trump every other type of sandwich, that nothing else could even come close.

5. That it was all going to be okay. Barring that mix-up at Kazakh-Turkish border control, but that I wouldn’t ever have to be allowed to go back there again, and the nightmares might even stop altogether one day. Once the psychiatrist and I worked out the right medication dosages.

Oddly coloured

6. It was just about okay to prance around college in oddly coloured orange skirts from Benetton. But I maybe shouldn’t have expected to find a suitable boyfriend while clad in what looked like an early prototype of hazmat gear.

7. “Do you think he likes me?” would cease to be my all-consuming question. My concerns would change in time to more quotidian worries. Like where I left my spectacles.

What really matters

8. That it’s true what they say: the greatest thing any of us learns is how to give love and receive it in our turn. Learning how to get and keep a job is pretty useful too.

9. That it’s often the most surprising people who help you in a crisis. Like the railway guard in Bishop’s Stortford who helped me out and bought me a new ticket with his own money – thank you. It was more than fifteen years ago and I’ve never forgotten your kindness.

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