I arrived in Leicester
this past week two weeks ago, and I’ve been slowly settling in to student life. To recap from my last post - on my last full day with Megan we visited College Park airport.
College Park is the world’s ‘oldest continuously-operated airport’ - first used by the US military as a research facility for developing early planes and training pilots. Then it was passed on to the postal service as they were building an airmail network. Now it seems to have settled into a role as a small (albeit historically-significant) airfield for amateur pilots.
The airfield was also used to test and develop the Ercoupe plane. It was designed to be used by average people without a huge amount of training, and was positioned to lead an ambitious expansion of private aircraft use. I love these sorts of wacky transport experiments because they tend to be embedded within exciting (and perhaps overly-optimistic) visions of a radically different future society.
Imagine thinking in 2001 that you’d soon be spinning around the office on your Segway. The idea behind the Ercoupe is not just an easy-to-fly plane, it posits a landscape where suburbia extends out beyond the limits of the road network. Where every house has an aircraft hangar, you can take off from your driveway and fly in and out of the city for work.
The US does have a handful of fly-in communities, so the idea is viable on some level. Even if it would be completely impractical if it were ever adopted on a mass scale.
The four most-produced civilian aircraft ever made in the US come to around 130,000 planes in total, since the 1950s, and the US’s rural population accounts for around 60 million people. That’s before we start confronting questions of air-traffic control, the numbers don’t add up. Maybe that’s why the concept never took off. Heh heh.
Megan took flying lessons when she was younger and she can fly planes.
Yeah, my girlfriend is a proper trained pilot. It’s one of many cool things about her. She doesn’t talk about it often (I guess it doesn’t come up in conversation much), but in the museum she was all excited and telling me what it’s like to fly.
As well as having a go on that arcade simulator, we got to sit in an actual plane cockpit.
You can move the flaps about and pretend you’re in the air. Can you see the people down below? Whooooosh. Give them a wave!
After the museum we had some time left and half-heartedly went to Greenbelt to see the museum. I quickly regretted having suggested it, as it was rainy, the museum cost money to visit, and we would only arrive around 40 minutes before closing time. We got as far as the bus stop from the metro to the museum before deciding to turn back. Megan made it clear that she would have gone if I really wanted, but I didn’t insist and she was pretty relieved when we were on our way back home.
Megan made dinner, and we spent the rest of the evening in bed watching the IT Crowd. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday.
Yummy taco salad.
On Monday, Megan went to work, and I wandered around Washington with my backpack. In my last sights of Washington, this is the Trump International Hotel.
This is… a colourful and ornately-decorated building.
And this is a statue near Megan’s work. It commemorates Samuel Gompers, the founder of the American Federation of Labor.
It turns out Gompers was a supporter of craft unionism, and promoted the labour movement as a vector of class collaboration. That approach definitely comes out in the monument. Personally I lean the other way.
At the end of the day I took a long bus journey to the airport with Megan. We listened to Billy Bragg on her phone and watched the rain. It was tinged with sadness as I never like saying goodbye to her.
I didn’t sleep much on the flight. It was Primera Air, so I got the full budget transatlantic experience. There was no in-flight entertainment and the seats were uncomfortable. I really don’t understand this, is cushioning too expensive? How exactly are hard seats cheaper? Maybe it seems petty but it makes a difference over a long-haul flight. EDIT: I was lucky to leave America when I did.
At least I didn’t have to worry about baggage. When booking the flight I paid extra for checked luggage (and then forgot about it). I only had a small bag, and I checked in early, and the person at the check-in desk gave me an exit row seat. I was the only person on the exit row, and my theory is nobody else had paid for the ‘leg-room upgrade’ beforehand; they need someone, anyone to sit there, so I got it for free. Yay.
Passing through London was a blur. I was already extremely tired, and there was a whole day to go before I could get to Leicester. I also got a nasty surprise from my bank on arrival. My bank card was restricted sometime during my journey and a new one sent by post (to my old address). This in turn led to a circular problem. The bank teller couldn’t sort out my card from within the branch, so they said to phone the number on the back of my card (which I guess connects to their card restriction specialist or whatever). I’d used the last of my calling credit on a rushed phone call to my brother, and I couldn’t recur my phone plan because… my card was restricted.
With no (working) phone and no card, and part of the journey still left to go, I was a little worried. I also wasn’t certain that I’d be able to move straight into my room in Leicester at the end of the day.
It was not the first time I’ve been stranded in London without money or a phone. I don’t know why I keep getting into these situations. Thankfully, I was still able to withdraw a bundle of notes from the bank teller and I just reverted to using cash.
It all went smoothly from there. I was surprised to find my bike still completely intact after having been left for almost a month in a public area, in the centre of London. I’m not sure whether I should count myself extremely lucky, or maybe my bike just doesn’t look valuable enough to scavenge parts off it.
Moving into my student dorm feels very much like my first year of university all over again. Corridors illuminated by dim yellow light, tattered wooden furniture, wiry carpet, and erratic fluctuations in climate all throughout the building.
There’s also a constant low rumbling noise outside, like someone grinding rocks together.
I’ve already decorated my room.
It reads ‘no to selection - education is a right, not a privilege.’
There are newly-built student dorms in the same complex. They have large windows and if you’re feeling jealous you can peer in at their well-lit social spaces and fresh colourful chairs.
I guess I’m technically a mature student now, which takes a bit of getting used to. I’ve started sitting in on one or two undergraduate lectures, and except for the fact I’m a few years older, there’s not much separating me from everyone else there. On the other hand, I’ve got my own desk in the department, and I’ve noticed the professors in the faculty talk to me slightly differently.
There are other elements to this too. The university library has a special section only for doctoral students, and I can get into it. It’s nice in there, the seats are comfortable, there’s often plenty of space, it’s quiet, but it also sits uncomfortably with me. Sussex University also had a special doctoral student space, and I still remember how it felt to find out that part of the library was locked off. Forbidden. Only available to those who’ve passed into the upper echelons of some academic hierarchy. Much as I like the space, it feels wrong in a way.
In a similar theme, the university is more… controlled, than I expected. To get into the department you need to go through a locked door, which you can open with your student card. There are two locked doors between the entrance and my desk. Class attendance is monitored, and sometimes I see students tapping in with their cards to register their attendance. Some rooms contain microphones, with a button which the professor can use to start and stop the recording of their seminars.
These are all things which I’ve seen individually in universities before. Buildings have guards, secure areas are locked, it’s just taken to another level here.
The campus is also a bubble in Leicester, and somehow the invisible social rift between the university and the city looks more acute here than it did at Sussex. At least it doesn’t quite have the same reputation as Durham, where the university seems to relish its hermetic isolation from the city.
I got to go through that experience of being a new student once more. I visited the societies fair, and came out with vouchers for pizza, amazon prime, leaflets for various churches and religious organisations. Companies put a lot of effort into selling to students and it prompted me to think about the Preston model. Leicester could surely do with capturing that debt-driven student revenue.
Companies have clearly spotted that there’s a lot of money being funnelled through the university. I’m not saying students are rich, if they were they’d put their money into a mortgage or other financial investment products. No, students are poor, and so when that first maintenance loan payment arrives, it circulates rapidly, it goes on rent, on clothes, on fancy macbooks, on… domino’s pizza. And it takes an event like the societies fair to put all that rapidly circulating money on show.
So that’s the end of my long summer journey, and here is where I’ve ended up.