The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Them there Students

on October 15, 2013

I like a good mug of tea and I have far too many mugs in the cupboards to get through. Like socks and underpants, I never seem to throw them out unless they get broken and then that upsets me greatly. In our family, it’s each to their own mug. These two mugs have been with me since my University days. Twenty years of teagetherness.

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Now, the Newcastle United mug is legitimately my own but the Garfield one was ‘left behind’ by a tea drinking student whose name I forget until I ask Nana Moon. Nana Moon nearly always says something about how I stole it from a boy (now fully grown man I presume) called Rob who was a Depeche Mode fan. So she always gets her tea in that mug.

I was reading the recent media coverage of Carnage UK in Liverpool and Manchester about students disgracing themselves with binge drinking, throwing up and making out very publicly. How utterly disgraceful! I don’t know how long this blog will survive in cyberspace but just in case #1, 2 and 3 are reading this then your Mam never behaved like that. Ever. Can’t say the same for Nana Moon, Ms Beefy and Elbear though.

So twenty years have passed since I landed in deepest, darkest Salford. I should have suspected something was awry at the University Fair, when the University of Salford rep said ‘Don’t be put off by what you see in Coronation Street, Salford is not that bad’. Didn’t ring a bell, whilst I obviously had seen Coronation Street before, I was still very much taken by the beautiful young people of Neighbours and Home and Away.

I figured Salford is right next to Manchester and I’d been to Manchester before so how different could Salford be? Like with all big cities, there are going to be some dodgy areas and some less dodgy areas. Salford had a lot of the former in those days (and perhaps still does, someone told me a few years ago that you could buy a whole row of houses for £3,000 but you know how I am with the things I think I know). Anyways, don’t all students have to live in the really rough areas of any University town? Even those who went to Oxbridge?

When you’re young and away from home for the first time you really don’t see these things, even if our parents would have preferred to drive us straight back home again. Besides everyone is in it together and there’s always safety in numbers. That’s exactly how we operated. I really don’t know how true it was but there was always this thing about the Locals against the Students. You must never go out on your own else you’d be beaten up. There was even talk of a riot one night between the two in the first term of our first year. I wouldn’t know because I fell asleep early evening and woke up to find no one around, they were probably rioting. I was wandering around the corridors looking for non rioters and happened across two of them, Patster and Big Scary D, just loitering around. In the age old adage of student hospitality I offered these two poor, hungry Students with rumbling stomachs copious rounds of tea (Tetley) and toast (Warburtons white sliced – Husband calls it knock off bakery loaf). It wasn’t until years later that Big Scary D admitted that the rumbling was in fact due to a dire need to do an enormous fart. Students are vile. We lived in Oaklands Halls which was knocked down a few years after we graduated (to stop the risk of rioting Locals and Students I expect) and is now a sensible residential area. It’s a real shame it no longer exists because I’d like to go back and see whether it is as how I remembered. We were perched on top of a hill and my room overlooked some fields leading down to the self catering Halls of Residence and The Pav where many a drunken night was spent. Not a burnt out car in sight.

Leaving home for the first time is such a life changing, life enriching experience that I always advocate the young people in my family to try it. However, I come from a different point in time and much has changed. In those days, my career path was very clear; you either went to University or you worked in the family takeaway. I’ve mentioned before, in Chinese culture there’s a strong sense of duty and responsibility and a stronger sense of the will of family. So I had rarely enjoyed a social life before leaving home and there was some resistence to my leaving but everyone can adapt to change. Term time was only 10/11 weeks long and I was still back home for the holidays and just as well really as I appreciated having a ready job.

So after a pretty sheltered and strict upbringing it was just weird and a little frightening to be amongst all these unknown people. Hoards of them! I arrived thinking everyone would be more worldly wise than me. Some were but most weren’t. A friend drove me and my belongings to Halls and there were just masses of people that I was too scared to face being amongst them and spent the evening with other friends already in Manchester. I wasn’t quite ready to go it alone but I should have done, like everyone else. As we lived in catered Halls, we used to all go for breakfast and dinner together. Safety in numbers. Then of course, Fresher’s Week. All these activities designed to help new students settle in with the support of cheap watered down pints. Therefore always go for bottles. I missed the Fresher’s Ball though as I went home after two weeks, I suppose I wanted to let my family know I was still around.

When I came back though, I realised something quite important, that this was a life of my own. I may not have been able to control what had happened before this point but that wasn’t how it was going to be forever.

I was looking through photos to use in this blog and you know what, we absolutely looked like STUDENTS. I think modern day Students look too well groomed and probably won’t look back on their digital photos and exclaim what exactly are you wearing and what is going on with that hair? I really, really enjoyed having a laugh at them. There’s hardly a photo without a look of extreme happiness and laughter, most of them helped along with a bucket of ale. Of course I’m going to look back on those days with fondness. Especially that first term. Nothing can beat that first term of University where everyone is on a level playing field. It doesn’t matter where you grew up, what you aspire to be in the future, how popular you were back home; all of us were in a situation of starting over. You could be whoever you wanted to be. With the wisdom of age, compassion and understanding, I can reflect on the people who were perhaps not the most popular at school but had the chance to fit in at University. There are so many people that you’re bound to find your niche somewhere. Isn’t that a marvellous thing?

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Did I find mine? Well, I still carry with me some important people from back then: Nana Moon, Ms Beefy, Elbear, Big Scary D, Big A and Mrs 192 to name a few. Somehow, we have managed to adapt our friendships with the life paths we have each chosen. When we all first met, it was under the same circumstances but after University some people we were really close to went back to their real lives back home and others you find you have nothing in common with after all. I’m pretty sure that besides knowing each other for twenty years, there is a genuine fondness for the people we have grown up to be. Otherwise, Nana Moon wouldn’t be off celebrating her 39th Birthday in Berlin with Ms Beefy and Elbear and of course I would love to be there too. Assuming I would have been invited if I wasn’t out here in Singapore…..

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You may have figured by now that I’m a sentimental soul at heart and I feel great warmth when I hear of people who have friends they have known since childhood. I do have a few of those but if I’m honest they are only in my current social sphere with the help of Facebook. There’s something about the longevity of a friendship that has weathered many changes with you and understands the quirks you have and forgives you for them too. So much has changed in these twenty years, as of course it should with the passing of time. Yet quite often, I’ll hear a song (anything Britpop), have a chat with someone, see a bottle of MD 20/20, watch a film and it throws me right back there like it was just recently. What I need to do is see someone I haven’t seen since then and then I’ll really know we’ve aged 20 years!

Mrs 192 lives in Brisbane now and I last saw her almost four years ago with her husband, eldest daughter and #2 on the way. If I wasn’t here in Singapore then the last time I saw her would have been in ‘A Derry’ on her wedding day back in January 2005. She is still the same funny, captivating person she was back then and absolutely no one tells a story or makes you live an experience the way she does. She is the first (and only) person I have ever met who has conversations with their parents liberally peppered with the F word. I was shocked!

Mrs Wheatsheaf who hails from Bradford is also mother to three children. I last saw her in May 2010 on a trip back to the UK. She’s quite sensible now but she was the one who stomped around in Doc Martin boots and smoked her own roll ups. What a rebel. She would often sleep on my floor in Halls even though her room was next door to mine and sometimes I’d end up sleeping on my own floor whilst she slept on my bed! I know she worked very hard during term time but the last night of term before the holidays would start, you could guarantee a rather messy end in the Halls bar ( sometimes along with Nana Moon). I’ve said before that I’ve had a rather sheltered life (because I was never allowed out!) and so when she and I went to a Soul Asylum gig because I liked their one song ‘Runaway Train’, she warned me it was going to be rough. Oh my word! Like being a pea being shook up and down in a bottle full of golf balls! Yet she did her utmost in protecting me and she’s about two inches shorter than me too! Fun.

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I rather think that Students should be left to enjoy their lie ins, their six hours of lectures a week, their randomness, their hangovers, their slovenly ways, their endless discussions of answers to the Big Questions because as you and I know, all too soon they’ll be faced with the Real Life Big Questions and quite frankly, University doesn’t really prepare you for the Real Life Big Questions but it does give you some wonderfully, funny, carefree years and hopefully a good bunch of people who may be able to help you with the Real Life Big Questions.

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One response to “Them there Students

  1. Lorraine says:

    Oh Karen, that brought back some great memories. Beautifully written and thankfully the photographs are sufficiently blurred for my dignity (ha) to remain intact!

    Like

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