So the main thing that happens during Freshers Week is you have the following conversation circa 1,000 times across seven days:
"Where did— where are you from?"
"Ah yeah, is that: is that up, or—?"
"Near Manchester, right. Yeah yeah yeah, yeah. I think I… drove past it, once."
"What A-Levels did you do?"
" Further maths, you say? I just did maths."
—then someone from Colchester pretends very loudly at you to have smoked ten to 15 times more weed than they have ever actually smoked. That's Freshers Week, basically. Just a week of that: smooth boulders of non-conversation clacking against each other in some sort of complex dance of un-chemistry, a lad who has reinvented himself as "the guy who always wears a hat!", a girl who is starting a Psychology degree attempting to get to the root of your issues with your mother, Christians handing you toast.
Think of the 18-year-old body, flooded with the dual adrenalin rushes of "hormonal change" and "absolute freedom", a body with the cells near oscillating with sheer anticipation, what the rollercoaster of Freshers Week does to them. Dead-eyed students, sores on their hands from relentlessly playing socially bonding games of pool with four silent boys from the next halls over, crawl like zombies over campuses, all wearing the exact same £20 T-shirt from Topman, all murmuring: "Do you know where the SU is?" It's incredible anyone survives it.
Swerving wildly off the road of the point, here. Some conversations yr. gonna have:
AN 18-YEAR-OLD BOY WHO HAS ONLY BEEN ALLOWED TO GROW HIS HAIR THIS SUMMER DESPITE SIX CONSECUTIVE SUMMERS OF ASKING HIS MUM IF HE IS ALLOWED TO GROW HIS HAIR IS ATTEMPTING TO HAVE A SINCERE OPINION AT YOU ABOUT MUSIC
Arguably the worst people on the planet are 18-year-olds with sincere opinions about music. Nazis: yes, bad. Racists: bad. Murderers: bad. An 18-year-old boy with a fringe who wants to tell you about The Sherlocks: awful, terrible, the worst. Who would you rather be locked in a room with: Ted Bundy – who by the way in this situation has been given loads of knives, like loads and loads, and a gun as well; for some reason we have armed Ted Bundy – or a lad called Nathan who is trying to get the bar to plug his phone in so he can stream something from Spotify? Answer honestly.
What you should talk about instead: I've found a really good way of avoiding talking about music is to just fully pretend you don't like music, at all, just look them in the eye and say "I don't like music" and they'll stop talking. Seem quite pathological about it and they'll go away. If you don't do this then there's a very real danger they'll ask you to "be in a band" with them, and then you wake up and five years have gone by and you're in what is essentially the Kaiser Chiefs. Can you imagine a worse scenario? You were just trying to make friends in Freshers Week and you ended up in Kaiser Chiefs. Don't risk it.
WHAT FAMOUS PEOPLE ARE AT YOUR UNIVERSITY
In my first week at Bangor University, there was a wild and electric buzz of excitement when it transpired that "Glyn" from that summer's blockbuster series of Big Brother was due to start at Bangor in the same year as us. Can you imagine, can you imagine it, my god, what would happen if you sat next to Glyn, surely I would explode, Glyn, Glyn Glyn Glyn, my god. Didn't happen in the end. Glyn got too unassailably famous to start that year, deferred for a year, then the next 12 issues of the student paper were just basically spent speculating when he would start, which as it turns out was never. But for one shining week: we really, really thought we'd all meet Glyn.
I was reminded of this when it transpired wonky Game of Thrones lad Isaac Hempstead Wright has just started at the University of Birmingham and everyone is very excited about that. This happens at roughly every university in the country: statistically, at least one person in all three years of intake has appeared in a children's TV show, or was in a band once, or did an E4 show, and around them is a glimmering halo of semi-fame. And once that spicy-hot what-A-Levels-did-you-do? chat has run dry, this will sustain entire nights of conversation. "Did you see the famous person? I heard they lived in halls. I heard they are doing English. A friend of mine from another course says they have their own special famous person halls, for famous people." &c., &c., forever and ever, and ever, or at least until someone stands up and drinks alone when the "anal" round comes up on Ring of Fire—
What you should talk about instead: You need to acknowledge that, as of today, the first day of your university experience, until Day X, i.e. the day on which you die, you are now locked forever in a contest with everyone at your university to see who can achieve the most. And you need to achieve the most to win. So statistically: about three people in your university intake are going to go on to be famous, in some way. Britain's Youngest UKIP Politician. Third-String T4 Presenter. Guy w/ Guitar Who Wins A British Breakthrough Act Award In Three Years' Time Then Fades Away Forever. Really English-Looking Model. That sort of thing. They walk among you, right now. They are brimming with latent fame and success, the same way you are. You need to crush them. So: don't waste time talking about who is famous now. Work out who is going to be famous in the future, and either sleep with them (good story), sabotage them (better story) or out-perform them (with your skillset: deeply unlikely).
AH YES, YES I DID WATCH 'LOVE ISLAND' THIS SUMMER, YES CHRIS IS GOOD ISN'T HE
There is safety in massive inoffensive cultural events, which is why you get a few non-opinions washing around at Freshers Week, dressed up and wearing the clothes of opinions. You need to talk to people – you need to use your mouth to make noise – but you can't say anything too spicy, lest you shun people away; you can't say anything too ironclad, because you are 18 and every opinion you have right now is wrong; the only thing you all have in common is fear and the wider cultural amass. We are in a grey-zone of conversation here, so you have a load of half-drunk people regurgitating flat truisms and hoping they take on the vague lean of a new idea. So look, here's one: "Yes, I enjoyed the movie It – it was scary and well made and the ending wasn't quite as noncey as the book." Or: "Neymar for £198 million? That's too much money, I'm afraid, for a footballer." Or: "Mike shagged Jess." Or: "The ting go skrrr pap pap ka ka ka."
What you should talk about instead: Oh, literally anything. A lot of the hesitance to have any sort of actual opinion or interesting conversation during Freshers Week is fear: the fear that, if you say the wrong thing, you will be socially shunned for the next three years and then, after that, your entire life; that alt-timeline best friends are being alienated with every wrong remark, or missed word. I am here to tell you that nobody cares a single iota how much of a dickhead you are at Freshers Week. Everyone is exactly as scared of each other. Nobody is making notes. You are – conversationally, at least – for the first time in your life entirely bulletproof. This is a no-lose situation. Eschew vanilla chat. Next time you're in a roomful of freshers and you can tell someone's going to suggest Zulu Warrior again, hit them with something like this, from AskReddit: if you had twelve hours to give yourself diarrhoea without the aid of laxatives, how would you do it? The question really opens people up.
SOME LAD IS DESCRIBING A VIRAL TWEET YOU HAVE ALREADY SEEN AND TOLD HIM YOU HAVE ALREADY SEEN BUT HE IS HALFWAY TOWARDS EXPLAINING NOW SO HE'S GOING TO KEEP GOING AND, SIDEBAR, HE'S TRYING SPECTACULARLY HARD TO FINGER YOU
No basis to this at all but I assume students in 2017 spend a just agonising amount of time describing memes to one another, same way I spent most of my first year saying "jagshemash!" and trying to tell girls about Kingdom of Loathing, then going to my room and pounding the bare white walls with my fists and crying to the gods, the ancient gods, crying: "WHY! CAN'T! I! GET! LAID!"
What you should talk about instead: I figure the only heat-sealed, nailed-on, impervious way of becoming the most popular person at Freshers Week and sustaining that popularity for the next 36 weeks is either i. be genuinely charismatic and likeable as a person, or, more realistically ii. just collecting and collating all data on who has shagged who, because in the first full throttle hi-acceleration weeks of university that is all that matters, who has shagged who and for how long, and with what sort of recharge time between the shags, and how many people that person has shagged, and so on and so forth, because humans fundamentally are, deep down, dirty little dogs, and salacious shagging gossip is the grease that turns every conversational wheel, and if you know everything about who shagged who and in what position and how, then you too can become the most popular person in halls, despite all your otherwise glaring personality flaws. Something to think about at least.
*EXTREMELY BOY FROM COVENTRY WHO JUST USED A WOK FOR THE FIRST TIME VOICE* SO DO U HAVE A WOK
Being 18 is a sum of all the environmental factors that got you here: where you were born, where you grew up, how much money you had doing it, what school you went to, what lessons you did, what friends you had, how good your teachers were, what TV you liked, how much your parents sat with you and did your homework. Right? You're not really anything, or anyone. You're the end of a precise equation, a sum of the value of other parts. And now you're at university and nobody tells you what to do exactly every day on a tight schedule and… so… this is… who you… are? You are a foetal person now, suddenly loose without limits? You can stay up until 2AM and eat Pop-Tarts for dinner. Nobody is going to stop you. It's too much.
So a lot of people, left to float in this ocean of their own personality, struggle and drown a little bit, flailing their little limbs, and end up going odd and just spending all of Freshers Week regurgitating all the advice their mum gave them over the summer. So you will get a lot of this: "I know a great recipe for Bolognese." Or: "My mum googled [postcode area around immediate location] and said there's a really high crime rate, so we shouldn't go out after dark." Or: "Did you know you can clean windows with vinegar?" Or: "A good way of saving money is writing down everything you spend for a week." Or: "You can cook anything — anything — in a wok." Take a small snack to class with you. Here is an intricate laundry routine. A wok filled with sunflower oil can deep-fry a baby. Wake up every day at 8AM. Drink water before you go to bed. Mark your milk bottle with a thick black pen so nobody will steal it. Always sleep in pyjamas in case of fire alarms. Two woks placed together to form a dome can steam a human head.
What you should talk about instead: Hey: anything you like, buddy! There are no rules! The only rule is: have fun & be safe!