As the first term drew to a close, reading week was followed by exams. I worked long and hard in my room for my first two law subjects. I drank lots of coffee and took caffeine tablets so I could work into the night. Quite often, I studied at the Bodleian Law Library, usually finding a desk at the back overlooking the rugby and football pitches. Sitting there, I revised incessantly. Behind me were row upon row of shelves crammed with law books, which seemed to make me work harder.
The first day of my exams arrived after only eleven weeks at college. I made my way to the exam halls in central Oxford and the realisation hit me that this was actually the start of my finals (bearing in mind I had skipped the first year of the degree). The next few days would count toward my final degree classification. I panicked and decided to take a walk down Christ Church meadow to calm my nerves. The chill of the Winter air hit me as I walked by the college and then down a gravel path toward the river. My feet crunched on the ground. The vast meadow, with its herd of cows, was on my left and a few people were walking to and from the river on that freezing December morning. Down by the river, I watched boats row up and down. My breathing slowed.
Eventually, I looked at my watch and it was time to go to the exam. I’d calmed down and was focussed. From then on, whenever I had an exam in central Oxford, a walk down Christ Church meadow would become a ritual. I queued up at the exam halls with the other students and shuffled along the darkened corridors with enormous framed oil paintings of posh blokes in wigs. Over my shoulder, I noticed the wrought iron gates were closed behind us and chained shut.
In the exam hall, I found a desk with my name and exam number on a card, and sat down. A booklet was before me and I completed my details, put my pen down and waited. Invigilators methodically worked their way down the aisles and a question paper was placed on my desk. My pulse raced as I put spongy yellow ear protectors in to block out all the noise so I could concentrate. When I saw everyone turn their papers over, I did the same and scanned the questions. Everything I’d worked for was there for Tort and I began to write. I whittled the weeks of work into an intense three hours. By the end, the pen had dented a finger and my right hand ached. But it had gone well. The next day, I sat a second exam. And then the Christmas holidays were ahead.
I got a coach to London and a cheap ticket North so I could stay at my parents’ house. It felt weird to be there, but I made the best of it. I met up with some old friends and let them know how my new life was going. On New Year’s Eve, I was having a good laugh in the pub and a friend of my brother sat down next to me.
“So, it sounds like you’ve sold out then…”
“Well, here we all are – except you – hard working Northerners. Let’s face it, you’re just a lazy student bastard in the South,” he continued.
“So, I think now’s the point when you apologise and walk away,’ I said.
“Don’t think so,” he sniffed.
“Right, do you want to see how much I’ve sold out?” I stood up. After a few seconds, he stood as well.
“Come outside and I’ll even let you throw the first punch…’” He looked startled. “Or, you can fuck off.”
“Callum, can I buy you a pint?” He leant back, raising two palms.
I was skint and my pint was empty. “No, I choose who I drink with.”
He left quite quickly and my mates burst out laughing. I smiled and a good friend bought me a pint. The evening continued and we laughed, and then we laughed some more.