Friday, 3 November 2017

Life in halls

Leaving home for the first time is one of those experiences that sticks with you, no matter how long ago it was. For me, it was the autumn of 1993, I had just turned 18, and I can still remember vividly the mixture of excitement and sheer terror I felt as we packed up my parents’ car with all my worldly goods and made the 90 mile journey to Chester for the first time. 

Looking back, I wish I could tell you how amazing it felt, to be on the cusp of such a huge change in my life, but to be honest, I wasn’t all that keen at the time. My main concern was being apart from my then boyfriend, who was off to Cambridge (the polytechnic, not the university. My pulling powers have never extended to Oxbridge candidates) and this was a time before tuition fees so for me, going to university was simply a way to put off having to find a proper job for a few more years. It was almost a halfway house between being at home with my parents, and being out in the real world. I was to live in halls, and have my meals provided in the canteen, which meant all I had to do was keep myself clean and turn up to my lectures - both things I managed with a varied amount of success. In hindsight, I sound really ungrateful of the opportunity, but even then I knew how lucky I was. Living in halls was a blessing as it meant I didn’t have to find my own housing, cook for myself, or worry about travel to and from college. I could pretty much just roll out of bed, into my lectures, which I did on numerous occasions. I’ve never been a morning person. 

My pals Carol and Becky in my room, Astbury House.

Despite the seemingly easy option of being in halls, it did come with its own set of challenges, the first being that for some reason, Astbury House (my home for the next nine or so months) did not have normal plug sockets. Instead, we had to fit these weird miniature plugs to everything. I say ‘everything’ but this was the early nineties. Not many people had a TV or a stereo in their room, and the only computers on campus were in the library. In fact, I managed to go the whole three years of my degree without using a computer at all. I hand wrote all my essays, which seems unthinkable now. Anyway, I had my portable cassette player, and a tiny black and white TV that had to be tuned by twisting a dial, and even then I only seemed to be able to get S4C, which is the Welsh equivalent of Channel 4. It took me a good few minutes of Pobol Y Cym to work out that it wasn’t just static interference and that they weren’t actually speaking English.

So, TV was out, apart from the odd foray down to the common room to watch Supermarket Sweep, and music never did sound as good on my crappy little stereo, but that was ok because I had friends to make, and people to socialise with. This was my chance to start a whole new chapter in my life and make lifelong connections with likeminded people! Or not…….

They say the people you meet in your first week are the people you spend the next three years trying to avoid. Now, whilst that does sound exceptionally harsh, I can see the logic. Astbury was a large building, which meant it had a fair mix of students in it. Unfortunately, most of them seemed to be the type that never spent any time in halls, so I ended up making a lot of friends in Fisher, the similarly huge hall of residence opposite. It’s not that I didn’t meet anyone nice in my own halls, because there were plenty of interesting people. People like the girl along the corridor who insisted on having very vocal sex every time her boyfriend came to stay. She was lovely and friendly, mind, although it was a step too far when I got invited in to her room and they were both still in bed, naked. And then there was the time she told me to guess their latest new hobby. It could have literally been anything, but even I wasn’t prepared for the cheery sing-song announcement of “buggery!” I made my excuses sharpish and left. 

There was also the girl opposite me, the very first person I spoke to when I got to halls. She was lovely too, but again, her visiting boyfriend not so much. He was a bit scary, if I’m honest, and rumour has it that they both got thrown out of the Christian Union when someone accused them of being Satanists. They really weren’t that bad, but they did allegedly gatecrash a seance in Fisher and start speaking in tongues, which did freak out everyone far more than the actual seance. Thankfully, I wasn’t there. Speaking to dead people is not really my idea of a good night.

Aside from all this, I had my own boyfriend to think about. There were no mobile phones back then, and email hadn’t become a common thing yet because it meant booking a slot on those computers in the library, so we relied on writing letters and one phone call per week. Every Wednesday afternoon, I would loiter in the stairwell because it was the only way I would hear the one, solitary, incoming calls only phone from my room. I’d like to take a moment here to spare a thought for the poor sod who lived in the room next to the phone and the front door because they really didn’t get any peace at all. In Astbury, it was a friendly chap called Jim, who always seemed keen to stop for a chat after he let someone in, even after the umpteenth time. As for the phone, it was mainly me answering it every Wednesday, sprinting up and down the stairwell like a whippet just in case it was my boyfriend. Quite often it wasn’t. I lost count of how many times I went to knock on door nine, looking for some guy called Matt so his mum could speak to him. Matt was never in, and weirdly enough, I actually ended up dating him in my second year, which tells you just how well waiting for all those calls from Mr Cambridge went. 

Me and my mum, looking out from my window in halls.

In summary, living in halls was an interesting experience. It doesn’t sound that appealing, now I write it all down many years later, but actually I had a great time. Yes, it was challenging and daunting at times, and yes, I ate far too many Pot Noodles and rolled up to too many lectures in the clothes I wore the day before, but for me, that was what being a student was all about. I guess times have changed a lot, but regardless, going off to university is still a privilege that not everyone gets to experience. I loved living in halls, despite the questionable company, the dodgy electrics, and a communal bathroom that looked like something out of a horror movie. It left me with amazing memories, fantastic anecdotes, and that’s before I’ve even got to the good bit of what me and my mates from Fisher got up to. Alas, for now, I’m already a good 300 words over my limit so the good stuff will have to wait for another time. As for you lot, starting your life away from home for the very first time, I am entirely jealous of you. Enjoy every single bit of it, especially the sad bits and the weird bits, because those are the bits that make you howl with laughter when you look back years later. I sometimes wonder what happened to Noisy Sex Girl. Lord knows what she and her boyfriend are up to these days.

UPDATE: This news just in from my Facebook. Worryingly, we're not sure if it's the same person! 🙈

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