Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Being a fresher - part one.

This is part one of a two part post. Part two is here

I look out of my ivory tower and I see the students milling like tiny ants far below in the concourse of The University of Sheffield and I know that time has come again: as a new academic year dawns, the fabled fresh autumn air blows in with its breath of hope, germs, and anticipation.

The shifting currents of air accompany a profound and irreversible change in the lives of many thousands of students coming to study at university for the first time. The freshers that have made it to Sheffield have already embarked upon one of the most incredible journeys this old life has to offer, hungry for achievement and academic glory, but above all else, sandwiches, as the new 12 o'clock queue at John's Van proves.

A word on procrastination. I had planned to write a post marking 10 years since I was a fresher myself - the days of heady optimism in a blustery autumn in Nottingham. Well, I started writing that about a year ago, but all sorts of work and devilry got in the way in the intervening time. So here we are again, 10, nay, 11 years since I was first a fresher. Here are a few thoughts on what it meant to me - though I wish I could remember better.

I packed select contents of my bedroom into the boot of my Dad's car, without much forethought or any sort of 'box' system, a sort of loose pile of objects, and we made the approximately 1 hour trip up the M1 motorway to Nottingham. There's a big gap in my memory (I had a comprehensive education, there are all these comprehensive gaps...), and although I'm sure we did something nice in the intervening time, before too long anyway my Dad was making the right turn onto the Derby Road with a yawning chasm of space and a silence around him in the car - how he must have felt at that moment, I do not know, or maybe he just put on some music. But anyway, there it was, the finality of it: I was now in Nottingham, alone in a renting house. I was at Uni.

Why was I not in halls? Nottingham was my second choice University and by the time I had confirmed the place, it was too late for a place in halls.

I can clearly remember that the landlord had not finished decorating the place, having perhaps expected me a day or so later, but I distinctly recall a lady being in to clean the property as I unpacked. I had just made my bed for the first time with my orange-and-brown hand-me-down duvet cover. Now, I loved that duvet cover, but I get a pang of sadness when I remember this lady chatting to me. She saw the bed made up and said, 'that's nice, duck'. Could she have really liked it, or could she have just seen this poor lost boy and felt sorry for him? It's too long ago to be sure now.

What I was sure of in the year 2002 though was, I was no lost boy, but a roaring lion of a man! I was 18 years old, yes, a big manly 18-year-old. I had good A-levels in clever subjects. I was a musician, in a band, I was a tough Coventrian, I had a stripy beard. What more proof required? Yes, I had shaved stripes into my beard, and wore wooden beads around my neck that came from H&M Hennes. I don't have a picture to illustrate this specimen of a man, but some from a few months later, sans stripes, show the great hulking example of masculinity that I was.

Above: It's not piss. Below: two feet, one sock. (Thanks to Tea Hole).
What does this have to do with science though? you may or may not ask. Well, I had come to Nottingham to study physics. In the next bit of this post (it's getting a bit long, and I'm supposed to be working), I'll write about what it was like for me to be a first year physics student.

This is part one of a two part post. Part two is here


  1. Oh God I rememeber those taking those photos, and well remember the night of two feet:one sock / pavlova / kebabalova / salad cream / rojan josh. You were on top form that night.

    I hated being an off-campus first year but I have some happy memories of that year - I distinctly remember a 'you&me versus the world' feeling playing Billy Bragg in that lounge of yours after stuffing ourselves full of kebab or pizza.

    I like your writing style. Poignant details ('duvet cover') and Mikeisms ('comprehensive gaps') make this an enjoyable read.

  2. Tim
    It's always been clear to me from that night on that Cadbury's chocolate chip cookies should be served with a generous topping of Heinz Salad Cream. We were really unlucky not to be in halls - the University was clearly very keen to help us get places in houses after we missed out. It was really proactive of you to go back into halls the next year, and since you were starting a new course too it must have been a real good clean slate for you (if I've remembered how the years added up properly). But after all, without our off campus we would never have eaten like Kings. All things considered I'm glad.

  3. PS thanks so much for reading.