Monday, 22 July 2013

"Prince Charming Isn't Coming"

I remember when Kate Middleton got engaged to Prince William. It was late autumn/ early winter, I was in the middle of my PhD, I was teaching a few courses at my University, and I was already feeling hopelessly stuck; not gone far enough to feel confident of what I was doing, too far gone to quit. Unable to see the wood for the trees; unable to find enough time, with the teaching and marking, to just chill out and read books and think; time was careering mercilessly towards Christmas, which to me only meant one thing – deadlines, progress review submissions, and more deadlines. Oh, and a frantic half-day shopping for presents at some point.

Everyone, in my friendship group, was buzzing about the royal engagement. ‘Did you hear about the royal wedding?...’ people would ask, their faces smiley. ‘What do you think?...’ And the inevitable question: ‘Yes, but would you like to be her?’… We all agreed that there must be perks; Kate can probably go off for facials as often as she wants, and can justify it by saying that it’s part of her job to de-stress and look good. I wondered aloud if she can also just hire a personal trainer, or go to as many hot yoga classes as she wishes (my own personal fad). If she's always secretly wanted to learn the violin, she could probably do that too; we couldn’t decide on this one, but we reckoned it might be a bit harder to justify to the taxpayer; bet she could just about get away with it, though. And, I chipped in, she probably won’t have to ever go through the soul-destroying process of filling in job applications ever again.

I had another one, which I think I kept more or less to myself: I thought, if Kate was doing a PhD, I bet she could now get away with not finishing it. I imagined Kate going in to talk to her PhD supervisor, and I guessed she would probably say something like this: ‘Look, (Professor So-and-So), I’m getting married to a Prince. OK?... I’m really sorry but I just don’t think I will manage to finish this PhD, and I just don’t think I want to carry on with it anymore…’ – and I’m pretty sure that her tutor would have said ‘Why, yes, that’s completely understandable, dear. Of course I understand. I wish you all the best! Good luck.’ And that would have been that.

I wasn’t jealous of Kate; I too had a man, a warm home, a lovely life, and I even had access to all the yoga and facials that a person might want.* Really, there wasn't much to envy.** But the thought did occur to me, briefly and bitterly: how wonderful must it be, if you were her, to have a terrific excuse like that to drop out of your PhD programme. How wonderful to just get ‘rescued’…

I once read an interview with Eva Ibbotson, the children’s author, who described how, when she was in her twenties, she started a PhD in the sciences. She recalled how horrible the labs were, how much she hated the whole thing, how very far away it was from what she wanted to be doing; she realised she had made a terrible mistake. And then, she said, her boyfriend asked her to marry him, and thereby ‘rescued’ her (this is the term she used) from the lab work and the rats and the PhD programme for which she had turned out to be so unsuitable. And she was very grateful to him for this. And then she became a children’s author.

This may seem a most ‘un-feminist’ post; but instead of being ashamed that I have written it, may I just clarify: I am not going to ask anyone to rescue me. I am going to do my rescuing myself. In other words: I am going to write this bloody PhD; I am going to get myself a job; and then, when these two things have been achieved, I’m booking myself a facial. It’s long overdue.

* about the facials: I have never had one. You can get very cheap facials at the London School of Beauty, in case anyone’s interested, but I never made it there once, because I was always trying too hard to write a bit of PhD instead. The reason I keep going on about them here is because… well, I’ve heard they’re nice. 

** well, maybe apart from some of her slinky dresses. 

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