Night Owl at Birkbeck

I recently passed Birkbeck University. It was Friday night and all was still in this part of Bloomsbury. A solitary light burned in the window, and I remembered how I once came here, every Wednesday night, after work, to study for a Master’s Degree. Harsh neon light burned in a cheerless classroom, and a small group of competitively earnest people met to discuss Victorian literature and history. Outside London darkened. But here our minds and imagination travelled to the East End of fin de siecle horror and fascination, to a world of Ripperology and Imperial arrogance. The scent of machine-made coffee and the rustle of chocolate wrappers, new books and hastily applied deodorant. For two years I came here, to the university of night owls. We explored themes of gender and homophobia, the hidden messages of Dracula and the not so subtle casual racism of travel writers. London’s past was our playground, its vile corners our City of Dreadful Delight. I learned to write dissertations, almost tearful with frustration, in the Art Deco library in the building dubbed the Ministry of Truth, the Orwellian structure that straddles the campus. And as clocks struck the hour my footsteps echoed on the flagstones anew, homeward-bound at last.

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