Moving to Glasgow

After a successful interview at the Strathclyde Law Clinic, I can announce that by the end of next week, I will have moved to Glasgow to study for a two-year accelerated LLB.

During lockdown I did a lot of thinking about what kind of career I want to embark on after a series of graduate scheme rejections were unable to exorcise a persistent desire to fulfil my potential and, if possible, help some people along the way.

My faint hopes to break into journalism failed to fully materialise despite publication in the local paper, online contributions and social media campaigns. I attribute that partly to bad luck – the BBC scheme was withdrawn (possibly due to COVID) – but I also could have been pushier, which is, ordinarily, against my nature.

Anyway. I vowed to myself at the start of the year that by the end of 2020, I would be in a graduate position or on a definite career trajectory. My resolution then fixed on a return to university as a route to a more fulfilled professional life.

I rejected teaching because, while the ethics of inspiring young minds and imparting my knowledge on a new generation appealed to me, I remembered my rather painful Hamburg experience and the mortifying reality of trying to get teenagers to respect you.

For a time, Scandinavian Studies was considered as a master’s, specifically in Viking and Medieval Studies at Aberdeen. In a lot of ways, it was my dream course – you learnt Old Norse and Latin plus archaeology and the literary/historical content of the sagas. This course too fell by the wayside, however, when I considered that the only realistic outcome directly related to the qualification – a career in academia, whose lack of tangible real-world consequences put me off.

View over Ayre Loch, St Mary’s in Holm from my last weekend in Orkney.

Enter law, and specifically the Strathclyde Clinical Law programme. Before lockdown I hadn’t thought about a legal career at all, but, as I threw it into the mix, initially as a wildcard option, it began to rise higher and higher up the list until it entered the serious consideration zone. The degree I’m off to study for combines legal theory with the Law Clinic, which is an organisation that helps people who don’t qualify for legal aid but need advice on employment, immigration, asylum, family and landlord issues. In effect, that means I’ll be working on real cases while studying and building up practical experience at the same time as learning the principles behind how the law is applied. It fulfils a lot of criteria for me, and I believe I have the right qualities to do well.

Of course, there are a couple of things that make it less than ideal. The first is financial – I’ll have to pay fees as the graduate LLB counts as a second undergrad rather than postgraduate studies. Luckily, I’ve had part-time jobs since I was 15 and I’ve worked for a year since graduating, so I can just about afford it. That, and the fact that by some miracle I do qualify for a student loan – so I’ll have at least some guaranteed income to get me started.

I’m still in the employ of Historic Environment Scotland (my contract is seasonal) and my manager at Skara Brae has made enquiries about whether I can do some cover at Glasgow Cathedral. My NPLQ (National Pool Lifeguard Qualification), which I completed just in time at the beginning of March, should also put me in a good position to pick up some casual work as a poolside guardian as the leisure industry begins to emerge from a six-month slumber.

The other drawback is time. It will be at least two years and probably three (unless I can get a generous diploma sponsorship) before I can earn a trainee salary. I’ll be 28 by the time I’m fully, fully qualified. Having a medical student sister does help to justify this in my mind though. It’s a long game, but the prize is worth it – more than just materially. I’ll be putting knowledge and skills into practice to benefit society in a meaningful way; theoretically, in any case.

It’s been a funny old year (and by year, I mean from August 2019). HES is a great employer, but it probably only works well for semi-retirees or people looking to top up their income rather than as a full-time gig – at least at the lowest rank (to which I belong).

I’ve met loads of interesting people there and loved the buzz about the place last summer where I had lots of opportunities to use my German and hear dozens of languages in close proximity – it was fun to tune in to Dutch or Scandinavian given the chance.

Bought my first car to get me there. My beloved 2004 Vauxhall Corsa, which, sadly, I won’t be bringing down with me next week.

Catering tided me over when the season ended in October and I got some kitchen work at the Orkney Hotel. On top of that, I’ve volunteered with a local pilgrimage route, the St Magnus Way, where I help maintain the website, app and Facebook page. Recently I ran a crowdfunding campaign to create a virtual experience that raised over £2.2k and received an additional £2,500 award from the Calor Rural Community Fund. I also set up a Facebook page for my neighbour’s pottery business, which I am in the process of passing on to a protégé.

Despite frustrations about being away from the centre of things and friends from uni all going their separate ways, I am glad that I took some time to figure things out and didn’t rush into a career without much thought. It has not been a waste of time. Although lacking the excitement of weekly gigs, my favourite Edinburgh pubs and the sense of collective effort in the media societies I was involved in, working in Orkney did ground me in a way and I made friendships with older people that I would never have got talking to in the city.

Just as I leave, I am realising that I was beginning to get into the community much more than when I was in school or Edinburgh. In the innocent days of pre-Coronavirus March, I applied for a two-day residency course at the Kristin Linklater Voice Centre as part of the Science Festival. It was soon cancelled, initially because of the travel ban from America (where Paula Langton and Ken Cheeseman, the tutors live), but the festival went ahead, with a fully online programme broadcast live on YouTube. The sessions transferred to Zoom calls, and with a brilliant technical team, we “speaker hosts” introduced dozens of acts over the course of a whirlwind week. Here’s a selection of my contributions:

The Orkney Sky at Night for Beginners with Eric Walker.
Graemsay Ahead – a virtual tour of the island by Katy Firth.
A Spaceport for Scotland? hosted by Matjaz Vidmar.

Something I think I’ve learnt from my “year in exile” is to check that auto-dismissive attitude of anyone in the vague region of middle age. Society needs experience as much as youth – they need not be in opposition. Just as the method and mindset of the late Kristin Linklater live on in our outdoor community production of Hamlet in Firth Park, so too does the tech-savviness of the younger generation revive ancient rites of pilgrimage and analogue wayfaring.

About alasdairflett

German & English Literature graduate. From Orkney. Interested in alternative and indie music, language, writing and politics.
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