It had been a good conversation. We had had a good rapport. We talked about what he liked about where he worked, about the book we were both reading and our mutual love of Sebastian Faulks, and about my microbiology research and what I thought I wanted to do when I grew up.
At the end, we shook hands and said how nice it had been to meet each other and then it was time for me to venture back into the dark cold evening in a strange city.
“Have a safe trip home,” he said. “Are you driving back to Geordieland tonight?”
I paused in the act of gathering up my things. “I’m on the train and I had a sodding disaster of a journey to get here, so heaven knows what it’s going to be like getting back,” I said.
A couple of hours earlier, I had been disgorged from the Edinburgh to Glasgow train onto the platform at Queen Street. My journey to Scotland had been delayed by a tree on the line outside of Kings Cross, leading to an hour of pacing back and forth beneath the departure boards at Newcastle Central Station. On a train, finally, I made a flurry of phone calls, making frantic promises that I was still planning to be there that afternoon. Just north of the border, an announcement was made over the PA that due to unforeseen technical difficulties, which I would later discover was a felled power cable in the Central Belt, the train, which had been scheduled to take me direct to Glasgow Central, would terminate in Edinburgh. Edinburgh Waverley is a labyrinthine behemoth of a train station and I’d only been in it a couple of times, and always for a leisurely stroll to the Playhouse. As we pulled in, I was first off and barrelled past the crowds of people swarming around the station on the mid-January afternoon, squeaked apologies and little old ladies flying every which way. I made it onto a train to Glasgow with less than thirty seconds to spare.
I blurted this story out. The filter between my brain and my mouth was plainly lying scattered in pieces somewhere along the tracks of the East Coast main line.
“Oh,” said the man who had been interviewing me for a place at medical school. “Well, good luck.”
That was ten years ago this week.
I am still occasionally asked why I chose a medical school in Scotland. There were 25 medical schools in England during the application cycle in 2006-2007, after all. My usual answer is that I was running out of places to apply to, which people take as either a joke or as a sign that they’ve committed a social faux pas on a par with starting up a dinner conversation about how much they liked the Twilight series.
I applied to medical school for the first time in 2002, when I was in sixth form. In the UK, the maximum number of medical school applications that could be made in one cycle at that time was four. I applied for the second time in 2005, at the beginning of the final year of my BSc. My third application was going to be in the autumn of 2006, when I was in possession of an honours degree, my old room in my parents’ house, and a customer service job in the public transport industry that I hated. It doesn’t take Alan Turing to realise that by the time I whittled down medical schools to places I hadn’t already been rejected by, places who accepted graduates, places whose graduate admission criteria didn’t include A-level requirements that I didn’t meet, and places that didn’t require me to live in either Keele or Hull, the list was getting quite short. “What about Scotland?” asked someone, and the rest is basically history.
That first day, I saw the medical school, the fence surrounding the ancient university buildings, Queen Street station (twice), and a bit of Sauchiehall Street out of a steamed up bus window. And when I say that I saw them, I didn’t arrive until half past three in the afternoon and it was January 11th, so I didn’t really see them. And then I got on a train back to Newcastle.
I already had another interview booked. It was for a four, not five, year degree; a graduate entry programme with all but the first year of tuition fees and a good chunk of living expenses funded by the NHS. I had two good friends already at the university. It was not in a city that consistently feels like the rainiest place on Earth. On paper, it was perfect.
I returned to England and spent the next two days going quietly crazy. On the third day, I called my mum on my lunch break at work. “I know this isn’t logical,” I said. “I know that it’s an extra year and it’s more debt and I don’t think I care. I’ll go to Warwick for my interview, of course, but if Glasgow offer me a place then I’m moving to Glasgow.”
Now, it is the case that if a person wants you at their university even after you conclude the interview by reciting a monologue on the black hole of twenty-first century rail travel, the laws of good karma and good British politeness do dictate that you probably ought not to turn them down. It wasn’t that, though. Anyway, they hadn’t offered me a place yet. In retrospect, it was a bold thing, and not in a sensible way, to start making plans for what I’d do if I was made not one but two offers. It would have been bold for anyone, but for a person who before this had been rejected by nine medical schools across what was by then three application cycles and who had concluded that interview in that way, it bordered on foolish.
It was, however, exactly what ended up happening, and eight months later, just like I’d said, I packed all my worldly possessions into a Transit van and moved here and I’ve never left.
It has been a decade since I first fell off a train into the arms of this place that I knew nothing about.
Bold. Foolish. Rash.
In that decade I’ve not had a single regret.
I can’t explain any better now than I could have then what it was that happened that day — something that tugged hard on my instincts, that paired me to this glorious city and told me that we were for each other. How do you explain what home is? I don’t, but I knew it when I saw it.