This is the South West train service to …


So, there was this time, right, when I decided that I was going to be … an astronaut. Yes, I know, my life really is just one long punchline, and yes, this is all true, you can ask my mum. I really, very badly wanted to be an astronaut, so somehow I figured that rather than join the airforce, I would study astrophysics. This is inspite of the fact that I failed Calculus at Bursary level, just scraped through Physics got one of the highest marks in the school in Bursary English and given the honour of Drama Prefect. I really am that stubborn.

So at the age of 18 (because of course, I knew everything then), I decided that I would continue the Patel family tradition and do a year at Vic (and start a Politics degree in honour of my father’s memory and, you know, have a double degree) and then maybe go to Canterbury the following year … somewhere in between POLS 101 and PHIL104 and turning 19 (and therefore acknowledging that silly high school me thought I knew everything but now I really did know everything) I thought, well, why not shoot for the stars and try and get into a UK university (being closer to the European Space Agency and all – shall we all cringe together?) … so I applied to a few and got accepted into 3 … and I can’t remember why, but I chose Royal Holloway. My mother agreed to this (she had an ulterior motive it was called “she will finally grow up and learn to be an adult”) and so off I went to the UK knowing that everyone was wrong, my future was not in the Arts (even though I had just finished production and stage managing a Young and Hungry show as well as getting a runner up placing in the New Zealand Young Playwright’s Competition) oh no, I knew better than that. My future was in Science!

The nine months from September 1998 to June 1999 were some of the hardest in my life. It was the first time I’d lived away from home, let alone lived in another country and I was terribly, miserably homesick. I was also, incredibly way in over my head, I particularly noticed this when Calculus was the one subject I wasn’t struggling with – a very bad sign. I was one grumpy wee lass (except when the sun came out – so my classmates nicknamed me Sonny to rhyme with sun), but some how I managed to make friends – in particular my flatmate Meg, a saint who got me through some pretty bad days. Of course during that time I was still writing plays (it was just a phase I was going through, clearly, even if I was place Highly Commended in the competition this time) and auditioning for school shows …

Cutting the rest of this story short, I passed the first year of Astrophysics (but failed the particle physics paper, the one A I got on the course came from an essay I wrote about scientific methodology and falsification) but went home to finish my BA (which I tried to make into a quadruple major of Theatre, Politics, Film and Philosophy – turns out that wasn’t allowed, so with only one more paper for a Film major I used all of those points and put them towards a Graduate Diploma in Theatre instead). I went back the UK in 2003 on holiday and saw Meg, but didn’t really want to ever see that campus ever again.

Until today.


Meg and I went on a bit of a nostalgia trip. First we took a trip up the back path to our old halls of residence, Runnymeade, and marvelled at some of the work going on. The old prison block, formerly known as Atherton Halls had been almost completely demolished and replaced with new fangled looking prison blocks. But our old home was still there.

The red circle is my room, the blue one, Meg’s. The tree barely hit the top of the ground floor windows back then …


I remember watching snow fall for the first time out my window and writing a letter to my friend Erica telling her about it. We tried to have a snow fight, but with only a light dusting, we had to try and scrape stuff off the cars for ammo. I remember the night that Robin and his mates got drunk and were running up and down the corridor playing football the night before I had a major test – I yelled at them and the next day Robin presented me with beer and a pottle of sour cream to say sorry. I remember the stupidly sensitive smoke alarms in our rooms that would set off on the smallest whim causing us to evacuate the building at 4am on several occasions. I don’t remember my classmates serenading me at my window just before the Christmas break but that was probably because I had already been carried home from the pub having hit the flat Christmas party wine a little too hard (Rob, Meg and I had planned a party for our eight people flat, we were the only ones that showed up. So we partied, wrapped ourselves up in tinsel (I should add that Rob is a six foot plus farm boy from Somerset who’s built like a rugby player, he wore his tinsel as a feather boa) and continued onto the campus pub The Stumble Inn).


There were some really cool parts to Royal Holloway. The path from the halls up to campus was particularly pretty, especially when the trees would give way to the breathtaking site of Founders, the original campus buildings.


The place used to be called Royal Holloway and New Bedford College or RHBNC, but a couple of years ago, Bedford New College was dropped and the university was rebranded as Royal Holloway College or RHUL. We had always called it that anyway as students, but it’s sad to see Bedford New dropped. These two colleges were one of the few women’s only universities in the UK and New Bedford College was the very first one. But as we left out the front gates, it was good to see that not all of the signs had been replaced.


There were quite a few new buildings on campus. But the science block hadn’t changed one bit. Note the observatory dome … the observatory dome held a beautiful telescope within it … the telescope we never got to use while studying astrophysics … got quite upset about that …


But there was one building that as soon as it opened, became a secondary home, I loved it. It was only today that I realised why … the International Building (aside from having some of the best coffee on campus) wouldn’t have looked out of place in Wellington. It looks even better now that the timber has weathered a bit.


Egham itself was a really weird area. A bit of a country town, it was rumoured that Augusto Pinochet was resident in the area somewhere, there was this weird gated community too, always wondered about what sort of people were living there.


Of course the best part about Egham, or maybe that’s the only good thing about Egham, was Great Windsor Park. Meg introduced me to it after I was having a bit of a day. It was autumn and we went collecting leaves. Today on a gorgeous summer day we went and had a picnic and reflected back on our time nine years ago (I can’t quite believe it’s been that long) …


Meg went on to finish her Pyschology degree, visit NZ on her OE and meet a nice NZ lass whom she married last year. They live in Dorset and Meg is a cabinetmaker.

I don’t regret that year of my life anymore. I grew a lot as a person and I gained a lifelong friend (Meg’s virtually family now). I can’t remember Einstein’s equation to the universe and I doubt I’ll be able to do second differential equations anymore. I’m definitely looking forward to catching up with the Physics gang in a few weeks to see how the years have been treating them (for starters in our group of seven, four married each other) …

The trip back to Egham was lovely today but it’s still a bit of a hole for me. It certainly was then. How bad? Well, when going to Staines was the highlight of my week, it was pretty bad – check out the shopping mall … although there was a woman in the mall who spun fresh candy floss, which was heavenly …


Yes. That’s right. Staines. As in Staines Massiv of Ali G fame. When Ali G first made his appearance on the 11 O’Clock show in 1998 he was rightly a favourite on campus … after all Staines was awesome … compared to Egham.


And as a final end note, in case you’re wondering – now a days, I’m pretty sure I know not a thing. I can guess if you like, but in truth, I’m just making it up as I go along.


5 Responses to “This is the South West train service to …”

  1. I still have some lovely emails from you when you were at Royal Holloway.

  2. You know, actually you were still here and _I_ was away. 🙂

  3. Gosh! I think I may have those on an old floppy disk somewhere …

    Hate to think what I was babbling on about then!

  4. “What a lovely story!” Said Meg, polishing her halo… 🙂

  5. But I should point out that Sonal counselled me through my naive and fairly beer-soaked first year far more than I returned the favour by looking after her.. AND she rescued me from loneliness more than once in Wellington..! I am very honoured to be virtual family.

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