Friday, 1 May 2009

The Observers' Guide to University Life - Article

I came across this article which was written after I had finally left my college and got to university. It is a lot less parochial than most of the articles I had written. Anyway, this was my perspective of starting at university in 1987, something I was not totally unequipped for as the bulk of my friends had passed their 'A' Levels first time around and had gone into higher education in 1986. Knowing that I knew so many people in the 6% who did now makes me feel I was in a very self-selecting group, though of course it seemed the norm for me at the time. The other interesting thing is the mention of political groupings which these days seem to have completely disappeared from the university campuses I hear about. Two of the couples I know who met in their first week at university are now still married.

Looking back over these college magazines from 1983-7 (I was there 1984-7, but clearly picked up some older editions) you can see a move from typed and handwritten articles towards early wordprocessing off dot-matrix printers. Some of these you can see the lines used to form the letters. This last article was produced on an Amstrad PCW512 which had 512K memory. The quality of the printing is far superior to the other stuff around it and makes use of italics which had not been possible before. I was only one of two students in my halls of residence of about 200 students who had a wordprocessor and was forced by other students to get permission from the hall tutor before I switched it on (despite it only using 70w compared to 1000w of the hairdryers many students used which did trip the fuses) and my tutor was excited that I could hand my essays on disk, well a square of plastic 3.25 inches square. How different now, when I know some university departments give wireless equipped laptops to their students who rarely pick up a book rather they read e-books they access online. Anyway, this article marked the end of a phase of history not just for me personally but for amateur publications too.

The Observers' Guide to University Life

The first week is a heady round of various discos, department parties, kitchen parties, club parties and throughout this are lectures on your chosen subject. You try to juggle the swathes of paper to make sure you are in the right block, floor, and lecture which tend to be unbearably tedious if you reach them on time. The eternal theme that the menagerie of vice-principals, student union presidents and a weird assortment of lecturers is that you are here to work but enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself but work and so on.

After dragging yourself through the labyrinth with more blocks than a child's playset and select your options, you are assailbed by two more challenges that affront you. First there are the booklists as long as a corridor with books as thick as wafers costing £99, often failed publications of the lecturers themselves. The bookshop is crammed to the ceiling with desperate freshers (new first years) scrabbling for the last copy of Dialectic Superconductor Biology in Western Borneo and joining the queues which stretch right across the shop.

The second challenge is the Freshers' Fair where the numerous societies try to tempt (or press gang) you into their particular group. Societies I have encountered range from the exotic (Kyushindo), the athletc (triathalon), the dangerous (parachuting) and the deadly (hang-gliding) to the homely (Tea Society), the intellectual (Word Game Society) to the suave (Saville Row Society) and bizarre (Blue Underground Garderning Society). You are jostled through crowds of noisy, enthusiastic society members and other freshers in a desperate attempt to find the club that you do want to join. Throughout the day you are pestered by the political groups particularly those trying to sell you Militant or Socialist Worker, ten or more times in a morning.

If you manage to survive these assaults on your sanity, you are able to witness one of the great phenonmenons of the first week at university, witnessed throughout the country. This usually occurs from the Freshers' Ball, or similar event, onwards, this is the mass coupling of students. Romances develop rapidly in the kitchens throughout campus, with pairs of students hogging the cookers while they conjure up elaborate dishes for their tender neon-lit dinners. This fortunately supplies a good deal of gossip, just when everyone has got through the eternal topics of your name, what you are studying, and where you come from.

The final characteristic of your early days at university is lack of sleep as you try to cram everything into your days and nights staying up to four in the morning, playing cards or debating with your fellow residents. However, you soon find yourself struggling to complete all the reading and essays before the next morning. The simple guide to university life is that you have to work, but enjoy yourself; you have to enjoy yourself but you have to work.

That is it.

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