A dear friend's eldest daughter started her undergraduate degree at Oxford last week. I felt all sorts of fudgey softness at the thought of her just beginning – entering one of those autumn-lit collegiate squares, arms full of books and all the future just there waiting in the long shadows of old oak trees. Of course the reality also looks like a student bar with a carpet sticky with beer and the prospect of completing far too many essays in the shadow of its hangovers. Nostalgia never has a fully fleshed out, evidence-based narrative, after all.
Still, sometimes I wish I had just begun sooner. Instead, I often feel like I am sailing upwind, trying to catch up with people half my age, attempting to squeeze double the amount of stuff into half the amount of time, never quite sure that I've found quite the right tack. That sort of squally breathlessness that can tread close to panic, at times.
I felt a little like that reading the winning poems for the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. Because gosh, they're good. At an age I had yet to figure out friendships and fashion choices in my life let alone my writing, poets like Maud Mullan, and her excellent poem Locket, are already handling complicated decisions about line breaks and metaphor with maturity and wisdom. It's inspiring.
Actually, maybe inspiring is a better way of looking at it all. Because it's never too late to begin, is it? Especially when there's the excitement of such a fresh new wind at your back...