University, a time of learning, a time of mind expansion, a time of change. That said: I mean very little of the actual learning proper is done in a lecture hall. You mainly learn, like, 'the guy with the most consistent weed hookup in the first week of uni is rarely the guy you still want to be hanging out with come March'. Or, like, 'the tensile strength of a blueberry-flavoured condom handed to you in a goodie bag at a fresher's fare is rarely sufficient for actual intercourse'. You know. 'A late-night visit to the Big Tesco for a morning after pill is exceptionally unfun.' 'No panic like the dreadful first panic of ejaculating unbidden into a person!'. That sort of thing. There are loads of lessons you learn. But can you learn those lessons in a library? No. You have to learn them out there, in the real world. You have to spend – say it with me now – a few terms at the University of Life.
Alternatively: just read this informative and shareable article, front-to-back and back again, a few times, commit it entirely to memory, and try not to make the same mistakes I made at university! Thank you! My only wish is that you live a better life than me!
THE FINE AND INTRICATE ART OF LAUNDRY
I first learned to do laundry in the tiny laundry alcove at my student halls of residence. The laundry alcove was hell, by the way. They say kids have it good these days because they are not drafted into the army at a young age and forced to die on beaches at war, but then have you ever tried to bag a washer and a dryer in a 20-load capacity room at a laundry alcove shared by some 500 students? On a Thursday, the one day of the week the oversubscribed psychology department has off, so the one day of the week they do their laundry? Hundreds of girls with mediocre A-Levels who just learned about the autistic spectrum and 'are getting a read on you' trying to wash their duvet covers at the same time? No. It is impossible. Doing your laundry becomes some vampiric and Herculian task: you find yourself, at 1am, an alarm on your phone going off, shuffling in flip flops down four flights of stairs and across a courtyard just so you can bag a washer and use it without someone taking your clothes out and dumping them on a detergent-covered floor. You find yourself shuttling great sacks of still-warm bedding back to your room under the cover of darkness. You learn to covet 20p pieces – the only coin these awful machines will take – like they are hewn from gold. Halls of residence laundry needs turn you into a monster.
But it also made me love laundry. Because your mum has always done your laundry for you, hasn't she, apart from that one weekend she went away and you tried to wash a football kit and the whole thing somehow ended wound around the outside of the drum and the callout charge to fix it was in the hundreds, and now your mum just straight up insists she does your laundry for you, doesn't she? But now you're here, alone, and all your pants are dirty, and you need to know the difference between bio and non-bio. Learn to love it. Welcome to Big Boy School.
There are, of course, students who shuttle their laundry home for their mum to do, taking weekly car journeys back home just to get their towels washed. I call these students 'scum'. They are doomed to fail in the adult world. They are the people you will one day have working beneath you. They are the vermin, they are nothing, they are nothing. But you – you, with your static-free dryer sheets, and your colour catcher, and your fragrance pods, and your non-itchy detergent choices – you are the king. The King of the Laundry. Revel in it, your highness.
LEARNING HOW TO TOLERATE REALLY BORING LADS CALLED TOM
The most important skill you can learn as an adult is being able to tolerate extremely dry getting-to-know-you banter with tall emotionless lads called Tom, Toms growing like reeds at student parties, Toms everywhere at student parties, somehow looking too big for the room, the Toms, their necks craned against the ceiling, Toms crowbarred in by fridges, Toms somehow sitting between seven or eight people on the same sofa, Toms drinking their own small four-can stash of warm Carling, Toms in zip-thru cardigans, Toms in the queue for the bathroom, Toms bringing the vibe down by merely existing, Toms somehow eating an oven pizza even though this isn't their house, isn't their oven, there is a chance Tom bought his own pizza to this party, in a Sainsbury's bag, which begs the question: why, of all the pizzas to bring to a party, why ham and pineapple?
Sample dialogue with lads called Tom:
[Tom, to you, with a raised eyebrow nod] "Y'alright?"
"What course you doing?" [Asks no further questions beyond saying 'yep' for the next 40 minutes, while you talk yourself to extinction about your English Literature degree]
"What's your favourite film? I'll start: have you ever heard of Batman Begins?"
Toms will haunt your entire life from now. Toms silently standing and eating muesli in your shareflat. Toms wearing three-quarter zip tactical fleece tops to your office's Dress Down Friday. Tom the only friend you've made in a new city, so you spend an evening after work doing a big Holland & Barrett shop with him. Tom from accounts is the only person who responded to your all-office 'Pint?' e-mail on a Friday night so here you are, sat in silence, Tom occasionally staring at a nearby group and whispering "pretty girls". Tom, with his lone season ticket to a League 2 club. Tom, the man who always seems to stand next to you on the train home, in his Karrimor trainers. Tom's immaculate tidy grey bedroom. Tom's well-paid job in computing. Learn to deal with Toms – learn to extricate yourself from conversation with them, learn that every vague offer to hang out at the weekend that you say a reluctant "yeah" to is cast in iron, learn never to live with them because they get up at 6am to do pull-ups – learn to deal with them now, so you are better armed for the real world, fierce and full of Tommies.
HOW TO COOK AT LEAST ONE MEAL THAT ISN'T A DIRECT ASSAULT ON YOUR BODY
Everyone can cook three things when they arrive at university: pasta-and-pesto, beans on toast, and that 'family recipe' Bolognese sauce your mum taught you. That's it. Some people can do toasties, some can't. Some guy thinks he knows how to do a stir fry but does something fundamental and mad with it, like using half a bottle of olive oil. Absolutely nobody can nail rice. Soon your diet becomes cheese, slices of chorizo, overcooked pasta, margarine on toast. You are yellow and you are dying. You are young so you can survive this. If you were 80, your diet would currently have you in hospital. You are eating so badly it would kill your nan. By Year Two, you need to up your game and know how to at least do fucking something with lentils, or you're not going to make it to 21.
WHETHER OR NOT YOU LIKE A FINGER IN THERE
Don't ask me what that means! Just everyone just seems to find this information out! At university!
HOW TO DRINK
Chances are you will rock up at university with about 18 months' worth of good, hard drinking experience under your belt – you've been served three times now without needing ID! You've had vodka AND whisky! You can almost tell the difference between Carling and Fosters! – but, sadly, you're still trash at the fine and subtle art of drinking. Like: garbage. You are a garbage drinker. The worst of the scum. Sorry.
This is good, because everyone is on the same level. If I was going to give any advice to a fresh, dewy-eyed first year, I would basically say 'never boast about how good you are at drinking in an effort to make friends'. Firstly: nobody cares, this is not a good friend-making tactic. Secondly: you are setting yourself up for a fall. But does it stop people consistently, year after year, making this exact mistake? Of saying 'sambuca? Two please!' and then, 30 to 40 minutes later, 'call an ambulance, Lucas, my brain is dying!'? It does not. You're going to learn how to drink. The next three years are going to be alcoholic chaos. But for week one, just try not to tell everyone that definitely-true-no-really story about how you were 'so stoned' and did 'like, a hundred shots in Zante' and now you're 'ready for pound-a-pint night, I've bought £60! Awoogah!', just for your ego's sake.
YOU HAVE A WEIRD ACCENT, OR DO SOMETHING WEIRD WITH TEA THAT OTHER PEOPLE CANNOT GET THEIR HEAD AROUND, OR LIKE YOU DO SOMETHING WRONG WITH BEANS ON TOAST, ESSENTIALLY EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT WAS NORMAL ABOUT YOU IS ACTUALLY WRONG
The first day I realised I had a northern accent was when I asked for a 'mug' in a share kitchen filled with people from Oxford and they all took the piss out of my vowel sounds, and to be honest I'm still not over it, ten years on.
HOW A BLOWBACK WORKS
It's funny watching hard kids who think they know about drugs getting patiently explained what a blowback is by the craggy-looking stoner on your floor at Halls, and equally entertaining seeing them then get their first blowback. This includes you. This definitely includes me. I still don't entirely know and I've never had one. Look: is it a sex thing or not?
YOU ONLY UNDERSTAND HOW WEIRD ENGLAND IS THROUGH THE PRISM OF AN INTERNATIONAL STUDENT
I only realised what a fucked up culture we had when I had to explain to an American girl what a chip butty was. The steepness of the learning curve at university is essentially figuring out how little you actually do know, about yourself, your chosen subject, or the world as a whole, and no more is that true than when you and some Dutch dude are arguing with an American about the meaning of the word "zucchini" .
EVERY SMALL TOWN IDEA OF BEING COOL YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD BEFORE WILL BE BLOWN OUT OF THE WATER BY ONE BOY IN HALLS WHO KNOWS BETWEEN SIX AND EIGHT GUITAR CHORDS
'Mike' knows how to roll joints one-handed and hasn't been to a single one of his psychology lectures yet, and you think he is so cool you start growing your hair out long just to be more like him.
SOME PEOPLE HAVE BASICALLY NEVER LIVED IN A HOUSE BEFORE, AS BEST I CAN TELL?
A lot of the people you are going to have to share living quarters with over the next three years were raised in the wild, they are feral children, they were discovered living wild with the wolves at the age of 15, growling and snapping, and immediately made to do GCSEs and didn't have time to learn stuff, like, 'don't use plates with food on them like an ashtray' or 'please do not spraypaint your name on the share kitchen windows, we all just lost our deposit' and like 'don't keep raw chicken meat in a cupboard? Keep it in the fridge? Especially over Easter holiday? I've been wondering what that smell was for four straight days? What the fuck, dude? Jesus?'
HOW TO LOOK AFTER YOURSELF WHEN YOU ARE ILL
This is the most harrowing adult life lesson you will ever learn. When you are a kid being sick is great: you call downstairs in a weak voice and put on some amateur dramatics to secure a day off school, and then you spend it under a duvet with pillows plumped in front of the TV, your mum bringing you soup and treats, you get to drink Calpol, you get to eat cereal for dinner, whatever you like sweetheart, oh my poor baby. Then you get fresher's flu like, six seconds into your first day at university and nobody will go to the shops for you and all you have in the cupboard is a big thing of pasta and no vitamins, so you have to drag you own festering carcass to Tesco for orange juice, lozenges and own-brand Lemsip, and you have to get a taxi back to halls because you're so exhausted, and because you're looking after yourself and nobody will help you your cold lasts like 18 days and you can only really bring yourself to eat fromage frais for some reason in that time, and you call your mum, your voice all weak, you just need a hug and a hand on the forehead, you just need someone to tell you you're good, and she just goes: 'Is this a real cold or one of those ones you always used to have two weeks into term at school? Like fucking clockwork, Joel. I never believed it.'
READING BOOKS IS EXTREME BULLSHIT
Academia in general is. Academia stops being a noble pursuit of knowledge about a week-and-a-half into university, and instead becomes you in jeans and a T-shirt wandering lost around the department corridors going 'hold on, do I have to submit a paper copy? I thought we just had to submit in online! I NEED £8 WORTH OF PRINTER CREDIT, IMMEDIATELY.' So quickly your attitude turns from 'I'm not here to have fun, I'm here for a better future' to 'second year is the only year that counts, anyway' then, 'actually you can make it all up on your third year dissertation', that university soon becomes this constant lie you tell yourself, that the bare minimum is actually more than enough. Think: is there any other time in your life you will congratulate yourself for leaving something so late that you had to stay up all night in a library doing it just to make a very conservative deadline? There is not. There was not a single assignment I submitted in my third year that wasn't written between the hours of midnight and 4am while absolutely off my nut on Diet Pepsi. This is why I only got a 2.1, in English, a language I already fluently knew.
YOU WILL BE ASTOUNDED BY THE SHEER NUMBER OF EPISODES OF THE SAME TV SHOW YOU CAN WATCH IN A SINGLE DAY
Right: no you've put it off long enough now, that essay was set three weeks ago and now it's due, you've put a day aside, you're going to focus, crack the back of it, source and secondary source and tertiary source, really up that overall grade, edge it up to a 2:1, Let's Do This. Only... only one episode of Friday Night Lights can't hurt, can it? Mm: one more, that finale had a cliffhanger. One more. Then watch another with your lunch – you can't type and eat a sandwich at the same time! – then work. Then: hold on, how did you just watch 35 episodes of Friday Night Lights? Did... did you just defy the laws of time and space? Are... are you God?
NOTHING TOPS OFF A NIGHT OUT LIKE AN OASIS SONG
Sometimes it is hard to admit who you are even to yourself, and no more is that true when it is 1AM and the lights are coming up and you are soaked to the core in your own dancing sweat and the DJ drops 'Don't Look Back In Anger' and you are just howling it, every word of it, eyes closed and you are bent double, and you don't even like Oasis but this is somehow the most important set of words in the most vital order ever summoned, like this just means everything to you, everything, and when that last lingering note fuzzes away to nothing you're just stood there in the middle of the dancefloor, alone, arms extended out like a statue of Jesus, and you are such a prick, man, good lord, don't you even know?
FOR SOME REASON EVERY UNIVERSITY TOWN HAS A UNIQUE AND CARB-HEAVY POST-CLUB SNACK THAT TRANSCENDS BEING IMPORTANT TO YOU AND ACTUALLY BECOMES, LIKE, ICONIC
Every university down has its own foodstuff that you cannot buy anywhere else and you do not know who invented it or how but somehow it is 2AM and you are in a shitty kebab shop in like, Southampton, asking for some exceptionally mad-named shit like 'cheesy nash', and you walk home eating a load of chips and mozzarella and BBQ sauce out of a pizza box, and you get home and join a Facebook group about cheesy nash, and you go home and scoff at the kebab shops that do not have cheesy nash, your drunkenness is bereft without it, somehow a pitta full of wan chips doesn't hit the spot anymore, you can only get drunk in Southampton, you can only fend off a hangover with cheesy nash, you wake up one day with it on you and down you, you realise truly what a mess you have become.
THE MOST ABRASIVE THING ANOTHER HUMAN BEING CAN DO, AND I INCLUDE WAR IN THIS, IS KEEP YOU AWAKE DESPITE YOU ALREADY ASKING THEM TWICE TO BE QUIET
"Hey guys! Not to be a 'square' but I do have an exam in the morning and you guys have been up in the kitchen smoking and shouting in Spanish for... ooh, two hours now. So if you could just keep the noise down thank you very much."
"Guys, hi! Sorry – yawn – me again. Only it's 2AM now and I did say I have to be up at— oh, you're just quieting down now. Of course. Sorry!"
"[Extremely long pause while they play volleyball, for some reason, in the kitchen, while you stand in your dressing gown and watch, until finally someone, giggling, notices you and points] hiya, yeah: can you go and do that in your room, please? Only my dorm is next to the kitchen and— yeah, that's great, thanks guys. It's just I don't want to have to call the— no, great, thanks, bye."
At 4AM the fire alarm goes off and somehow you just know who did it before you've ever fully stirred from your slumber. Still, it's... god, it's September. Only... eight more months of this? Didn't you used to be cool? Didn't you used to not care about shit like this?
YOU'RE NOT ACTUALLY SMART IN THAT ENGAGED AND SELF-PROPELLING WAY
Yeah I mean you did well at your A-levels didn't you and you got all those GCSEs and your mum was so proud she promised to pay for your Glastonbury ticket next year to say well done but then the first time you encounter an actual smart person, someone who can actually think and not just regurgitate page 88 of the textbook, then your heart jumps up to your throat and you feel like you're in a falling elevator and everything you thought you knew about what you think turns out to be false. Because you are dumb as shit, man. Your lecturer is all, "What did Kant say in Grounding for the Metaphys—" and some nerd kid who always sits at the front already has his hand up and is answering and asking a question at the same time, "do you think the loneliness of the human spirit is connected to blah blah bloo", and you are like: hold up, I was still taking a note down, is this shit something we have to revise or what? Sadly, you have been overtaken in a way you will never catch up to: you are dumb now, and you will never not be dumb. You will never smart up to that level. True smartness is self-fulfilling, self-propelling, every second of being alive is an adventure in learning new stuff, but basically you will never truly know that because you just found your level, found your waterline, and that waterline is 're-reading the notes a couple of times off the blackboard and calling that 45-minute session some pretty solid revision'.
STUDENT COMEDY, ACTING, WRITING AND ART IS THE ABSOLUTE DIRT WORST THING IN THE WORLD
The funniest guy at your university is just quoting Family Guy episodes you haven't seen yet, the sooner you figure that out the better.
INTRODUCING YOUR BACK-HOME FRIENDS TO YOUR UNI FRIENDS IS LIKE INTRODUCING TWO HALVES OF YOURSELF TO EACH OTHER AND BEING EMBARRASSED BY THEM BOTH
All your back-home mates have piled down in a Fiat to see you and keep making in-jokes about your old science teacher and how funny that thing you did once six years ago was, and all your new uni mates keep sipping cheap red wine and laughing tightly through their lips, and all your back-home mates have to be signed in to the Union and pay £2 extra to get in, and all of your uni mates turn up to the club at midnight because they were waiting outside the back of Tesco for them to throw all the old lasagnes away, and essentially: everyone you know is bad, there is no getting around this.
HOW TO CHANGE A DUVET COVER ON YOUR OWN
Step one: realise you are alone now, and nobody will ever help you again. Step two: Put your hands in the inside-out duvet cover, grab two corners of the duvet, take it to a staircase and shake it over the gap. Just flop it about like crazy. Doesn't matter if someone is trying to come upstairs with a full bowl of soup. Not my problem.
YOU CAN KEEP A FRIENDSHIP GOING FOR THREE YEARS JUST BY NODDING AT THEM EVERY WEEK IN YOUR SEMINAR
There were like three lads I was friends with through university who I met during freshers' week and just nodded at wordlessly for three years because I didn't really know much more about them beyond 'I had met them once'. If I ever forgot their name I just called them 'Chris'. They were always called Chris.
YOU'RE AN ADULT IN PURGATORY
This is the thing about university: technically, yes, you are on your own and independent, you are in control of your finances and your food intake and how you spend your time, you can stay up late and get pissed and eat just a whole thing of Pringles and bread because you are accountable to no one, nobody owns you, nobody rules you, You Are The King, but then also you are extremely scared of the fact that everything you do or don't do feels like it somehow matters, that this is the last obstacle you need to scramble through before you crawl into Full Adulthood, and the time somehow goes too slowly and too quickly at once, you could feasibly bust all these lectures and coursework out in about six months flat, but instead you are here, revving on the start line, filled with this sort of dread that the world might move on and shift in the three years it takes you to be technically ready for it, oh god, some of your mates back home are already making money, moving out, buying cars, maybe you should have got a job instead, maybe learning is for nothing, oh god, oh fuck, you played by the rules and yet everything is tearing apart beneath you, oh fuck oh god, was three years of this really worth a few nights out at the Union and 10% off at Topshop. And that's the real lesson you learn at university: whether it is or isn't worth it, whether it's the best thing or worst thing you will ever do, a lesson you can only truly learn that by going through it. Okay! Have fun! Rubber up!
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