Letters from the dorm

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 October, 2009, 12:00am

An intense noise wakes me from my dreams. With my face still buried in the pillow, I reach out for the clock. It is barely 7am. As I slowly regain consciousness, I realise I've been woken by the fire alarm. This is typical: fire drill on the second day of school; they could have at least waited until next week, I think as I slip on a pair of pumps and grab my dressing gown. The last fire drill we had was held was on a cold rainy morning, and I was wearing fluffy, indoor slippers, pyjamas and a cardigan when we assembled on the field. Needless to say my slippers got covered in mud, and I got a cold because the cardigan was I was wearing was not warm enough.

This fire drill is reminiscent of another experience etched on my memory. Last half term I stayed at a youth hostel in Oxford. There were three bunk beds and five other women shared the room with me. On one occasion, I was reading a page-turner and fell asleep at midnight.

No sooner had I dropped off than the siren went off. It was all too familiar to me, and I woke up startled, acutely aware that this could not possibly be a fire drill.

I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline and heard nothing but the pounding of my heart at an abnormally fast rate, as if a gun were being pointed at my head just as James McAvoy in the movie Wanted. Everyone jumped out of their beds and ran down the stairs and gathered in the lobby.

Despite the fact I was surrounded by people staying at the youth hostel, I didn't find their presence comforting in any way. Standing next to me was a mother holding her child while I shivered nervously in my down jacket.

I felt more vulnerable in that moment than I ever had in my whole life. I thought of my parents and how I would love to be back home with them.

Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm. Somebody was using an air freshener and that somehow triggered the smoke detector. At the risk of sounding a little paranoid, I have to admit that at the time I was terrified and for a brief moment it even crossed my mind that I could have died.

Back at the drill and on the field we are dismissed to go and get dressed and have breakfast before school starts. Perhaps, I think to myself, as I mount the stairs, the little adrenaline rush that the exercise has provided is not such a bad way to start a term at school.