An extract from the fictional novel: Casual Nexus, where we are taken back to Art College at the turn of the Millennium, non or the character or events in this extract are based on real life:
A Wednesday day, the small white travel alarm that Kate had brought back from working in Greece last summer goes off at seven, she gets up early in the flat she lives with her boyfriend, one day to become the husband. She makes a breakfast of tea and toast, then she showers and dresses in clean, freshly ironed clothes for a day in the workshops in the art school. Finishing her look off with a white wool, dry clean only coat which despite going through the grease and crime of the workshops is immaculate without a nicked thread or any sign of a spot stain which never fully goes away. Kate met her boyfriend at the start of her second year at Uni. What had been a life of parties had been replaced by a life of matrimony, routine and missionary sex once a fortnight within the matter of a few short months. She ties her long, curly vibrant bright red hair into a practical ponytail. An unusual looking girl: tall, thin and pretty but with pale white skin and equally gormless features. Some would consider herself to be a beauty, others kissed by the ugly tree, neither party right or wrong.
After a short walk, she arrives at Uni, on time and fresh-faced, ready for a day’s work, wool coat and hair kept dry by the umbrella she had been using. As she begins to arrange her tools and jewellery pieces she is working on the other students begin to crawl in. A mixture of oddballs forming some kind of mainstream group through their collective misfit status. Last night’s beer, last night’s gear and the other remnants of yesterday’s after Uni drinking session in the local pub followed by the usual gathering in one of the many squat like student digs. Crumpled clothes, messy hair, woolly hats, baggy pants, hoodies, frayed bottoms of jeans, hand dyes collets, itchy hand knitted sisal cardigans, but most of all the norm in the land of Students.
At school , then college she had never been the prettiest girl, the
most academic essay writer or the greatest artist.
She shakes the water off her umbrella
She thinks: but she had always been so popular.
As the others discuss what actually happened last night, Kate hears something about ‘I don’t remember that’ and ‘Were they there’ she goes through to the jewellery workshop to start work. This is her domain, somewhere she can find some kind of control for herself, a smaller group of girls where she isn’t so left out when they are all chatting. Ongoing through to the studio she overhears one of the girls saying something about going to be sick. She then begins to think that it might smell, but there no real stench. In a small collection of girls, Kate is able to take a lead in the conversation, turn the discussion into what ‘Men’ are like and how football is ‘Boring’ and ‘Stupid’. What had been a fun-loving party girl a few months previously had become a candidate for a gathering at Nora Batty’ house. Casual sex had been replaced with a persona of prim and proper, knock back shots made redundant for the sipping of wine, dancing all night forgotten for going home when she felt drunk.
At lunch time, she goes over to the students Union shop to buy a healthy sandwich and an orange juice. On returning to the studio she then begins discussing the club night she will be going to in Birmingham in four weeks time. Out of polite manners, while still recovering from last night informal party, some only just making it in now, the others nod and say that should be great. The reality will be that they will spend the next four weeks listening to what night she is going on and when she finally goes, on asking what the night was like she will have nothing to say at all. Kate gazes out of the window and into the rain-filled sky, she realises that when she speaks no-one really hears her, she may as well be invisible. Then ‘She’ asks her where the club is in Birmingham, everyone is suddenly listening when ‘She’ explains that she is going to an artist talk near there in a few weeks. It doesn’t matter what this girl talks about she makes it sound interesting: talks, Cathedrals, libraries, all seem to become the ‘Place to be’. Only ‘She could make an artist’s talk sound more interesting than the club night she is going on. ‘She’ then remembers that she had been at a night at that club, everyone in the studio had now gathered around to listen to her account of getting in for free, scoring and dancing till her heels bled raw.
The Course leader then pops into speak to ‘Her’, although he was teaching the small metals and the jewellery girls he was always interested in speaking to her although she was specialising in plastics. He wanted to know what she was doing with the paper aeroplanes, she had laid out an enormous roll of paper and had a collection of different coloured and shaped planes laid out on one side. She was mapping a graphical layout for the light she was designing. Getting different people to choose a plane then throw it, she would then record its path on the paper using the colour they chose and documenting the flight in regards to whether it was slow of fast. A quick flight being represented by a sharp elongated, lengthy triangle, a slow motion with a wavy line and a variation of both for middle variety motions. She was going to try and get some coloured acetate to make more plans which would be represented in the final artefact using translucent pigment in the process. The shape of the light was to very aerodynamic and she was going to call it a ‘Flight Light’. Basically a variation of pattern, colour and transparency generating idea’s process.
Kate then began to think about her own attempts at idea’s generation which she had spent several weeks over. Although she had been punctual and avoided lunchtime drinking trips to the pub she had managed to generate very little. The best she could come up with was a brooch based on natural forms, as everyone likes flowers why not, and as that it what she proposed last time and the time before that, why not propose it again? As the course leader marvelled over the planes and the process which very few student could have envisaged the Plastics lecturer joins the conversation. Not as enthusiastic as the course leader she reminds her of how bad the joints had been on her last project and how so many other students she had taught in the past had been so much better than she was in terms of practical skills. The Course leader then made and informed decision, he would need to get rid of the Plastics Lecturer. When she had first joined the team she had taught the students loads, she had been keen and motivational. Gradually she had begun to teach the new groups less and less, with this year there was only the flight light being made in Plastics, all the others had changed specialist area, this pupil was only left because she didn’t mind teaching herself. As she taught the students less and less she complained about how poor their skills were more and more.
It pained him but the Course leader knew what he was going to have to do: give the girl with the Flight Light no help at all, then make sure all the jewellery girls had strong ideas. Although Kate was fundamentally talentless he would get her to look at Public Art Sculpture and ensure that the flowers, called natural forms, developed into something stronger. His argument with the Plastics Lecturer would then be simple; she had a highly intelligent, extremely creative student who had achieved very little through her guidance, In Kate he had a talentless and fundamentally uncreative student who had made a strong collection through his guidance. Simple as, as simple does, goodbye Plastic Lecturer…shame it had to work that way. It wouldn’t make any difference in the long run, the Flight Light may not be as spectacular as it could have been, but the girl would make art for a lifetime, the very punctual Kate would probably fall into an admin job and never make anything again after her degree.
One of the mature students then comes over to speak to her to see if she had eaten. He was always concerned as she was looking a little thin. ‘She then explains that she hadn’t had anything since yesterday lunchtime and that she was just waiting to the guy’s in the hallway had gone. He had been wondering why they had been lingering, she explains that she had got it on with one of them when she had been wasted.
‘Was that you?’
the course leader says, still in earshot.
she responds,it had been her out drinking and getting off with lads, AGAIN.
The Mature Student wonders off but remains in hearing range, he looks towards Kate hoping one of the girls would go and speak to her in more detail; wondering how wasted she had actually been and underlying concerns that she might be Bi-Polar. Defiantly, Kate looks away and out of the window.
Outside the rain bounces off the glass
And now I’m supposed to find out if she’s Bi-Polar
Oh, I used to be so popular.
Ending off the day at Uni, Kate passes by the mature student talking to the girl who had been sick earlier, although invited to the Pub she declines the offer. So as the others drag themselves off to start the next drinking session she takes herself off on her own. As she walks out the double doors she gets a text message from her boyfriend, a reply to what he want for dinner, shepherds pie, a traditional choice he often goes for. As she goes down the steps towards the subway she wonders where all her friends have gone. When she was eighteen she had been at the centre of everything: the ‘It’ girl that everyone wanted to know. The centre of every party selecting who she wanted to let in the clique she was in charge off. Now at twenty-one at Uni, she was the girl that nobody could really be bothered with, no real mates, no-one really listened when she spoke and no-one was really interested in the club nights she was going on. At the corner she looks back towards the Halls of Residents she had lived last year, she had moved into the middle of the largest Halls on campus, made automatically popular by her placement. Surrounded by Freshers looking for fun, parties, cheap booze and a very good time, followed by a summer of working in bars in Greece, bed hoping throughout July and August. But this all disappeared when she moved out of Halls, not at the centre of everything no-one wanted to know her anymore.
As then others clamber of playing piggybacks on the way
to the Pub to drink Stella
Kate thinks, I used to be so popular.
As she walks through the subway she remembers the girl being sick earlier in the day and now she has been infiltrated in being expected to put up with the stench, even though there was none. Her next move was to go to the Police Station to write a report on the day’s events. Kate had been originally hired as an ‘It’ girl, a cool kid at the centre of all the parties. Originally a similar situation as Halls, going to secondary school from one of the nearest two primary schools, she had automatically inherited ‘Cool Kid’ status lasting into college. Everyone seemed to want to know her when she had been at school and college but not beyond. Put into the Uni Course she was so the Police would have someone at the centre of things. But the Art courses didn’t work like that, as with literature and music most of the kids hadn’t wanted to be in the popular group at school. They formed a sub-culture group where they were more interested in alternative sounds and couldn’t care less about the latest boy band, chick flick or other elements of mainstream culture. So when these kids go to Uni must of were are like that, so they form a core cool group from what had been misfits: subculture becomes mainstream, the Goth’ fit in, dying your hair pink and purple is the norm. To intensify things the once ‘It’ girl had become ‘Straight Kate,’ a bore, an outsider and someone to be disregarded. Although she was invited to the pub and the parties she never went, not unless she could be at the centre of things and she never was.
So, while the other kids were getting high she sat there deciding what to write on her Police report. As the hoodies came off when everything was getting hot in the pub Kate took off her dry clean only white wool coat and place it neatly folded over the back of the chair ensuring it didn’t trail on the floor. After writing up the atrocity of being expected to smell vomit in the toilets, even though it had never really smelled she began to think about what else to write. It wasn’t fair, she was supposed to be one of the cool kids, not unpopular and isolated in friendship. Everyone was supposed to want to go to the parties she was in charge off, but she can’t admit that is the case, she must insist that she is the popular one, the girl everyone wanted to know. Drenched in narcissism a lengthy report then followed about how everyone was jealous of her because she was so popular, everyone wanted to be her friend so much and how everyone was copying how she dressed.
All the other are looking at the clothes I wear
and choosing something similar
Oh I am so Popular
One of the Officers came through to talk to Kate. He wanted to know what had been going on with one of the girls on her course, there had been an incident involving her and a man they were investigating a rape in a nearby night club. The girl had stopped speaking or reporting any crime to the Police so the only way to get information was from there undercover staff and with Kate being on her course she seemed like the best person to ask. Kate became frustrated, all they want to know is about ‘Her’ again! Kate had been called up for writing a report where she had claimed the girl in question had made up the death of her brother when it had turned out to be true. Instead of taking her accounts as being true
the chief of Police had sought ‘Her’ out and had been more interested in what ‘she’ had to say than herself. Kate then began a campaign of insisting that everything the girl said was a lie, making herself look less incompetent being the primal goal. Oh, why does she have to be the centre of attention just because of this stupid Rape case!
Even her own mother and Father had seemed more interested in ‘Her’ than what she had been doing. They were both employed by the Police as well and had both remembered the case where the girl’s brother had died, a tragic accident that had made the National News. When they had heard the basis of the Rape case they had come to visit Kate and gone for lunch where her course mate had worked. When she had intended to come over and say Hello Kate had blocked her from coming over with a ‘Don’t’ expression so she had left it. Kate didn’t want her parents doing anything to help in a rape case, it was better for her to insist that the girl was lying and why should she get to be the centre of attention anyway!
Even her own boyfriend hadn’t backed her up when she had tried to claim she was an attention seeker who had made up the attempted rape case. He had gone with his Brother for a few drinks in the bar where ‘She’ had been working. ‘She’ had got someone else to explain to them what had actually happened when she had realised why they were there and they had considered her to be genuine. They when they had come back into the bar where she had worked they had told all the other customer what had happened they had all decided to go for a few drinks in the bar where ‘She’ worked. Nobody listened when she called her a liar and an attention seeker, they just looked at her in disgust and walked away.
The Police’ second mistake in assigning Kate to the course in question, a course where they were going to need someone top level is that they hadn’t considered the impact that Kate’ Dad had made when she was living at home in Derby. When she had been discussing things which had happened with him he had given her correct guidance, told her who to talk to and what questions to ask. When living in Derby with her father’s expertises she had been an asset to the Police, how living in the West Midlands without her father’s help and the loss of her ‘Cool kid’ status she had become nil and void to the Police, defunct, of no real use.
The Officer then thought back to the meeting they had held earlier in the day. They had piled undercover Officers into that degree course. They had been investigation many of them for a mass of reasons from the selling of narcotics to gay under-age fellatio. Everything from childhood sexual abuse to promiscuity in early adulthood. But nobody they had put in had been any use, they had originally though Kate had been making an impact, people had been talking about the girl with red hair on the three-dimensional design course. When tested properly this had turned out to be the girl they were investigating at the centre of the rape case, who insistently also had red hair. He tried not to show his annoyance with Kate, she was here writing reports when they needed her in the Pub at the pill party and finding out what was going down.
The officer then picked up Kate’ statement and begin to read through the details. He then asked about the girl who had been sick in the morning, did she talk to her about why she had been sick in the morning? Kate then became even more frustrated, now he didn’t care about the infiltration of her being expected to smell vomit, he was only interested in if the girl was okay. Kate brushed Off his question, the Officer then began to think about the downside of his job: being expected to work with people that were so vile and so self-absorbed, much worse, Kate in particular, than those they were supposed to be locking up. With any luck the mature student will be in later on, they had moved him in at the start of the second year, he usually had something of use to say and he was actually a very nice guy.
Kate then made her way home to start on shepherds pie, things began to heat up in the pub, hoodies around wastes the pills came out and the ecstasy fuelled dance began, the love spreading into the early hours of the next day.
Later that night Kate chants to herself:
Oh I am so popular
The pill party moves to one of the houses and into the Cellar