I've always thought that the strangest thing about growing up in Britain is the way it all seems to happen backwards- legally speaking, at least.
Consider this: at the age of 16 we are allowed to have sex, get married and fight for our country. But we can't drive until we're 17. And voting and drinking only come along at 18 (officially at least... ). Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't it seem a little weird that we can get married and have children with someone before we're allowed to get behind the wheel of a car. Even stranger that we can go to war before we can choose the government that tells us to go there.
Perhaps that's why the fact that many of us are about to leave our friends and family for the first time seems to creep up on us so quietly. In the midst of these huge milestones, the first foray into the 'real world' seems to get left in the background, right up until it's almost upon us. Not that it isn't always at the back of your mind, but the process is ongoing, punctuated by forms to fill in, and decisions to be made. It doesn't happen all at once, along with a birthday cake and some more dubious presents from distant relatives ('Oh thank you so much for theRugrats socks! They’re exactly what I've always wanted.') Just the other day, I had a sudden flash of realisation that life wouldn't be the same as it has been, all safe and familiar, next year.
It hit me in the strangest way, to tell the truth- while reading one of the many film magazines which are strewn through my house, I came across an article about the upcoming Harry Potter film. I made a note that when the movie is released (currently scheduled for November) I would have to make sure to go with a friend who is also a fan of the books. A second later I had what can only be described as a mental double-take, as the thought hit me that, by the time the film comes out, this friend and I will be at different universities and, while I'm sure we'll still be in touch, I doubt either one of us will be particularly up for travelling an hour and a half to watch a film together.
It's a big thing to realise that, in a few months time, friends whom you have seen almost every day for the last six years (and in some cases a lot more than that) will hardly play a part in your life at all. Big, and more than a little depressing. I know that, with e-mail, and mobile phones, and text messages, it's easy to keep in touch these days, but nothing quite makes up for face-to-face contact (even for a fan of electronic communication), particularly when you're so used to seeing someone so often. As I've said, more than once this year- after five years of waiting to escape social hell, it's a bit unfair to achieve redemption just before you have to go straight back to the start again.
Actually, come to think of it, that's really what scares me most of all. I'm sure that, if you really want to, it's perfectly possible to keep in touch with old friends, but that's not going to change the fact that you're about to enter a world where you're on your own. High school was a different story- ok, there were new teachers to get used to, and getting lost suddenly became the easiest thing in the world, but at least you had friends. You knew that when break came, there would be someone waiting to compare notes over which teacher you hated most. But not this time. Oh no, now we're lucky if a couple of people are going to the same place as you (and as for studying the same course... ). So, how do I know that I won't walk into a study group to find I have nothing in common with anyone (ignoring, in my neurotic state, the fact that we're all studying the same subject)? What if I hate the people I'm living with? What if it turns out that I'm actually a social retard and my friends have just been humouring me?
Chances are, it won't happen and there's really no point in worrying about it. There's no way of knowing what kind of people I'll meet until I get there (unless I manage to get hold of all their phone numbers by hacking into the uni's computer files and... Oh wait, reality check... ). As for my old friends, I guess I have to give up and reach for a cliché: if they're true friends, you'll keep in touch. Hmmm, suddenly I feel a future career in after-school specials calling... All together now- 'and what did you learn today?'