There are some very early lines in here. The whale gag dates from the very first draft of all. Some of it will feel vaguely familiar, as I ended up recycling bits into Lydia’s internal monologue, though I think some of the duplication may have been deliberate. At one point I had the idea of showing the same event from several different points of view. I think cutting it down to a single one was the right move in terms of structure, but it did mean losing a lot. I’m afraid, though, that this is all you’ll ever get about Why Olly And Will Hate Each Other So Much.
Will looked very much like any other stereotypical Stancester student – rah, sloane, Oxbridge reject, call them what you will. He had the floppy hair and the flippy-floppy flip-flops; he owned a wardrobe of rugby shirts, all of which he wore with the collar turned up.
Stancester, despite vigorous attempts by the Public Relations department to shake off the label, was generally acknowledged to be a university for Oxbridge rejects. It had always been fairly likely that a certain proportion of those who lacked the brains or motivation to reach the dreaming spires even leaping from the springboard of private education would end up settling for the rather less dizzy heights of Stancester’s prosaic and distinctly square blocks.
Will was among this number and was not ashamed to admit it. But the Lord looks at the heart, and Will’s beat, with well-meaning, exuberant devotion, to the glory of God the Father.
As Olly had informed Peter, it had not always been thus. Despite the best efforts of a cathedral school, the Dean’s sermons, and Religious Education, Will had never really grasped the point of it all. Oh, he enjoyed the singing, he would nod approvingly when people talked about the United Kingdom being culturally Christian, but it had never, he said, reached the deepest part of his being.
Nor had he ever really expected it to – particularly not three weeks into his first term at university, when the hangover that he had been trying to outdrink since Freshers’ Week had caught up with him, he was despairing of ever getting his head around Professor Bullen’s take on employment law, and he had just got onto the reserve hockey team. Some good, some bad, but none of it really the kind of experience that would obviously lead one to God.
God, however, works in mysterious ways, a fact that Will was to discover over and over again over the course of his university career.
Had he thought about it at all, Will would have compared his first term, to living inside a kaleidoscope, it had been such a colourful whirl of reality, illusion and violent agitation. His Freshers’ Week and the fortnight following it had been like one long school reunion. He had, he estimated, had alcohol in his bloodstream for eighty-five percent of his waking hours, and been roaring drunk almost every night. He had joined the cricket club, the rowing club, the sailing club, and several more that he only remembered when they sent him emails. Occasionally he had been to a lecture. He had, in fact, had a whale of a time.
It was the Tuesday of Week 3 when the whale seemed to tire of its parasitical passenger and vomited him out onto dry land. There was nothing special about Tuesdays; and this one was no different (so far as he could judge) from any other Tuesday. He had no more of a hangover than usual; his contract law lecture was no more boring than usual; his friends were, if anything, more scintillating and amusing than usual. Had you asked him how he felt about life, he would have blinked at you a little and replied that yes, on the whole he was pretty satisfied with it.
Will could not have told you what was so intriguing about the neon yellow poster that appeared, from a distance, to bear the single word Perfection? He could not have told you why he crossed the dining hall to look at it more closely, nor why, having deciphered the legend Want to know more? Look out for SUCF events throughout weeks 3 & 4!, he did not simply identify it as harmless, if silly, Christian propaganda and dismiss it as irrelevant. He walked on and ate his lunch, but the one-word question danced infuriatingly in his mind. Perfection?
He saw an identical poster that afternoon, blu-tacked crookedly to a door and, below it, a half-sheet screaming excitedly Ken Garnett HERE 4pm!!! Will consulted his watch. It was three minutes to four. He hesitated for less than a second before pushing open the swing door and – he could not have told you why – walking in.
After the event Will was, in his own mind at least, perfectly capable of explaining the mysterious attraction the Perfection? poster had for him. ‘It’s like, yeah, the Lord just, just, led me to that event; it’s like He was saying to me, “Will, you’ve just got to stop this sinful life you’re leading, you’ve just got to stop it and follow me.” He was saying to me, “Will, you’ve got to change”. And yeah, that was it, basically.’
Others put it down to boredom.
The effects of Will’s conversion upon his life were not immediately obvious to the casual observer. He continued to participate enthusiastically in the social life of the university’s sporting circle, both in the sport itself and in the attendant lager consumption, and was not noticeably more dedicated in his attitude to his academic work. He managed, however, to squeeze a few more hours into each week of his crowded calendar, and in them applied himself to Bible study, prayer meetings and good works. His circle of friends expanded to include Christian Fellowship members from every conceivable background. This was how he ended up frying eggs and bacon every Friday morning at Saint Martin’s Centre for the Homeless – a commitment he fulfilled religiously no matter how bad his hangover – and that was how he met Becky.
Will and Becky’s friendship was an unending mystery to acquaintances on both sides. Each one’s upbringing, politics and religious views were manifestly at odds with the other’s. Will said ‘sconn’; Becky said ‘scoane’. Becky said ‘laff’; Will said ‘lahf’. One would have assumed that all they had in common was the greasy frying pan at Saint Martin’s. It was impossible to deny, however, that there was more to the bond than the coincidence of the shared Friday mornings, and, against all the odds, Becky and Will got on like a house on fire. They teased each other mercilessly, mocked each other’s accents, brightened each other’s life with unceasing affectionate bickering and entertained the other volunteers and the homeless diners queuing up for their breakfast. Somewhere between the mocking and the insults the eggs and bacon got cooked.
In fact, it was Becky who had invited Will to fill the sixth space in Alma Road, back in the spring of first year. He had missed the boat in the scramble for housing; his Fellowship friends assumed that he would be sharing with people from the Sailing Club; the sailors took it for granted that he would have found a home with the Christians. Which, in the end, he did – but not those Christians, and anyway, Becky tended to get twitchy when people called her ‘Christian’. Olly, too – well. Will tried not to think too hard about Olly, but there it was: evidently a cathedral school hadn’t done much for either of them.
Leaving all that aside, even the ever-gregarious Will had secretly admitted that it was something of a relief when Becky turned to him across a sinkful of hot greasy water, and asked, ‘Who are you living with next year, anyway? Because I’m going in with my flatmate Colette and some of her friends, but I know they’re still one down…’
‘I hadn’t quite got as far as that,’ Will said, sheepishly. ‘I’ve got so much going on, you know? But yeah, if your house does have a spot going that would be great.’
She flashed a grin at him. ‘Brilliant! I’ll have a word with Colette, just to make sure they’ve not found anyone else, but it sounds like we’re good to go!’
And so they were. He wondered, sometimes, if he would have changed his mind had he known that Olly Sennick was one of this vague group of ‘Colette’s friends’ before he signed the contract – but never wondered too hard. After all, he concluded, every time, it was probably part of God’s plan. Perhaps he would be the one to lead Olly to God. Perhaps…