Wednesday, September 7, 2011

1984: Don't it make you smile

Uni beckoned and I had a place in a hall. I was dreading it of course, but unlike some people it wasn't as if I hadn't been away from home before. So it wasn't that part of it. In fact, I enjoyed being away from my parents. Which teenager wouldn't? I didn't relish the prospect of meeting a whole load of new people.

Unusually, perhaps even then and especially today, we had to share rooms. It was no mod cons. Bathroom down the hall, communal showers even, a small kitchenette that was constantly setting off fire alarms when toast was neglected, and for me, three to a room.

One of the lads was on my course, the other a rather fey art student who I never really got along with. The one on my course had come down from Yorkshire and being let loose was all new. He started off quietly enough, but by week four he was blind drunk, mistaking the foot of my bed for the lavatory and collapsing in the refectory, giddy with a mixture of vodka and cough medicine. By the end of term he was out of control and having a breakdown, simply not able to self-regulate without mum or dad to do it for him.

But it was fine for me. I was used to this shared living lark. I was the only one to arrive with my own mug. I kept my possessions to a minimum and all that mattered to me was my large double cassette deck. Records had to be taped when I got the chance, but mainly the radio was tuned to Laser 558, the new Radio Luxembourg that while fuzzy, didn't fade in and out, had hardly any chat and played Together In Electric Dreams on a loop.

The hall was a large old Georgian manor house on the edge of town, nowhere near campus but a shortish bus ride away. That autumn was chilly, but the breakfasts were large. A huge choice of everything a growing boy needed, though I avoided the kippers. Those that didn't paid a high price. The food was traditional British fare, mornings and evenings, excellent for lining stomachs. And they did our washing.

I was meeting lots of new people and actually it was fun. They were from all over, whereas I was from but 20 miles yonder. I thought this made me less exciting.

"Where are you from?', asked Rob from Manchester.
"York,' I lied.
"I thought I detected an accent," he replied, inexplicably. Anyone who knows me knows I'm as southern as they come.

But they soon got the measure of me. Stupidly, I moved out with three other people from the hall into a cold house with a black and white telly, bright green walls, where we had to do all our own cooking and washing. No wonder Andrew Collins stayed his entire time in halls. There's something to be said for it. Still, you've got to make your way in the world, and I wouldn't have had nearly as many Cup-a-soups if I'd stayed put.

So when mum dropped me off on that first day this was on the radio. Not a big hit, but a song that for me is the sound of summer melting into autumn. Much like now.


  1. I went back to my old hall of residence a couple of weeks ago. The house I lived in was virtually unchanged, apart from the bars on the inside of the ground floor windows, which were a bit of a surprise. But back then there were no iPods and laptops to nick.

    We got fed like little dukes and duchesses; massive breakfasts and three-course dinners, plus a hot buffet lunch at weekends that could have kept a Roman legion going. I quite enjoyed my year there, despite the fact that it was where I met and mistakenly befriended a crazy stalker-girl. Woah, was SHE trouble.

    Lloyd Cole and the Commotions were perhaps the ultimate 80s student band. All those dodgy rhymes and 'arch' references to Norman Mailer...

  2. I lived in for all three years of my course (all four, if you count my year abroad), and I always felt I was missing out on something by doing so.

    I never quite got over an incident at the end of my first year. A group of people I hung around with a lot (2 men, 2 women) were looking for a house to share and found one with 5 rooms. I was convinced they were going to ask me to join them, and mortified when I found they'd asked another bloke who they didn't know particularly well.

    Much later, I realised that it was probably because they were all devout Christians, whereas I'd made my lack of religious beliefs perfectly clear in numerous late-night conversations. I probably dodged a bullet, in fact - imagine, prayer meetings over the toast, compulsory church on Sunday...