Having been a lout at school, it is fair to say I wasn’t of an academic mind. Or, when I come to think of it, I wasn’t of any mind! Leaving school with very less than average GCSEs didn’t bother me as I was going to be a musician or, as a back up, an artist. Neither came to fruition. In fact I remember the day that I got my GCSEs, me and my two other band mates stood in a circle and opened each other’s envelopes. As my envelope come around I saw the look of umm on my drummer and guitarist’s faces, this is normally the look reserved for walking past someone in the street that you think you know 😐
Three years later I had found a vocation when my previous plans fell through. Nursing saved me from the supermarket I felt I was lost in. Scraping into university on a few irregular qualifications that I had obtained, (which are now not worth the raggedy paper that they remain on) I managed to get a diploma of higher education. 10 years after achieving this unknown qualification, I’m still explaining to people that it is one level below your average bachelor’s degree. However not to knock it because it did allowed me to become a registered nurse, which was the whole point of doing it. For those that have never been to university, and for those that have, their remain separate spheres of work and life that do overlap from time to time. But having been to university, and not having a degree, leaves you in an even stranger limbo. Having moved abroad and started a new profession I decided to finally start the path gaining a full degree. Then the unthinkable happened. I got an A (9.5) and two B’s (8.5). Of course this was a shock to me even though I am doing an English degree at a Spanish university. This sounds very strange but the three subjects were literature, cultural history and literary criticism, all of which are standard subjects in your average British university and of the same difficulty. With this news I had a very strange feeling, one of bewilderment. But why?
I don’t feel like I am the sort of person that should be getting A’s at any age let alone an A and two B’s. Never before in my life had I achieved such a thing. In school I’d had a piece of artwork shown in a local theater along with students and in my band we had written some terrible songs. But amongst my other achievements in life I didn’t ever feel that this would be possible. Isn’t that really quite sad? Meeting a beautiful woman, getting married, moving country and getting involved in politics all seemed really slow, good and natural (but scary) but there was no ‘stamp’ that would point out to me what was going on. I’d always wanted to get married and to the rest of it seem to be circumstantial or just luck. If you had told me much of that when I was younger; I probably would have believed you. If you included the part about world war III and an international pandemic I may not have. But the rest of it seemed to be, well, life.
Freud writes about something similar in one of his letters to a friend. He recounts the tale of a trip from his childhood with his younger brother. Their planned trip had to be shortened as his brother had work issues so they decided they would go to Corfu via Trieste. Whilst they were in the Italian city, his brother met a business associate who inquired about their further holiday plans. He advised them against going to Corfu because of the heat saying that they would not be able to do anything, and instead he advised them to go to Athens. Both feeling unexplicably downcast about the prospect of going to Athens, all they could think about were obstacles and excuses to stop them from going. They eventually bought tickets to go to Athens.
After arriving in the Greek capital, Freud stood looking out from the acropolis across the landscape of the ancient city and said to himself ‘so this all really does exist, just as we learnt in school!‘. Freud compared this feeling to a person walking along Loch Ness in Scotland believing that the monster didn’t really exist, and then all of a sudden seeing the green prehistoric reptile pop its head out of the water. The realization that something is in fact real or that something is too good to be true. Freud would call this phenomenon estrangement. He claimed that early in childhood, people would repress things that they did not think would be possible in their lifetime. For him it was visiting the acropolis. He had studied history at school and as any fan of Freud knows he was a huge archaeological buff. However, during his history classes, it seemed so impossible that he would be able to travel to such a magical place that he had repressed the idea of it even being ‘real’ into his unconscious. It wasn’t that he’d doubted the existence of Greece or even the tales of the Greek emperors, but he did not think it would be achievable in his lifetime to visit such a place. A feeling of incredulity. It wasn’t until he got there that this repressed thought, and accompanying feeling, became unrepressed.
I suppose this is a similar feeling that many get when visiting a place that they’ve always dreamed of visiting but only ever seen in films or in television shows. Or in my case getting an A!