There’s an awful lot I miss about my student days, but communal living isn’t one them. I was recently reminded of this fact when a friend very kindly provided me with a sofa and sleeping bag following a night of Guinness, Sambuca (and a random whisky-based cocktail).
My friend isn’t a student himself. But after only a few minutes inside his house (which he shares with three or four other people) it was damn near impossible to escape the conclusion that he must at least live with students. My addled brain had just enough Columbo left rattling around inside to enable me to spot the following key signifiers:
1) There was a Jules and Vincent Pulp Fiction poster on the wall above the fireplace (with a poster of A Clockwork Orange on the wall opposite). I dare say there was also a Betty Blue poster somewhere in the house, and maybe one of those Beer ones. You can’t actually study for an undergraduate degree in the UK without owning at least one of these posters.
2) The kitchen was reminiscent of something post-Hurricane Katrina. If I’m completely honest, I felt a little rude turning up without a search and rescue dog.
3) It looked like one of my friend’s housemates had been abducted while preparing a pasta meal, as there was a full pan of abandoned penne on the hob. We carbon dated it to only a few hours earlier, but it had already become weaponised. The pasta could easily have been tipped out of the pan in a solid frisbee shape, with a jagged edge of lethally sharp penne tubes. If necessary, it could then have been thrown like Oddjob’s bowler hat to scythe through the flesh of a hapless burglar. Half eaten (or abandoned) meals and snacks are the mainstay of any student kitchen.
4) Perhaps the most bizarre thing I discovered was one of those origami fortune teller games. (Giggling girls often used to thrust these in my face at primary school, ask me to pick a number or a colour, then lift the flap and announce with glee: “You Stink!”) I’m absolutely certain that the fortune teller game in this instance was the accompaniment to a bizarre student drinking game; conceived, no doubt, at the height of intoxication.
Like no primary school fortune teller game I’d ever seen, the outer options on the folded paper object were: Tits, Bottom, Tounge (sic) and Feets (sic). Each of those options then revealed a number, which mercifully took me back to familiar territory. However, when I then unfolded the object further, beyond the numbers, it revealed a bizarre mixture of insults, accusations, instructions, portentous statements and generally bizarre word combinations, such as:
You are a Terrorist
I understand that key members of the Bush administration were all issued with paper fortune tellers shortly after 9/11.
You will die soon
At least you know it’s going to be soon.
The kind of headline you’d expect to grace the front page of Chat magazine, alongside other tales of depravity, murder and an excitable cover model with a beaming smile.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is some kind of gay reference.
This sounds like some kind of conjoined twin challenge, which I’m not sure the world is ready for.
This would undoubtedly be one of the funniest ways to learn that, after three years of higher education, you didn’t even scrape a Douglas. (“So, I bum my mum and I’ve failed my degree? Oh god.”)
This sounds like either a drinking challenge or a sexual position….like, say, the Pile Driver. (You can find your own links for the latter!)
This game had “students” written all over it (metaphorically speaking). It certainly didn’t seem like the kind of game that a couple would unveil to their dinner party guests along with a cheese-board and some fine wine. No, this just had to be students.
I was surprised to learn, therefore, that no students lived in the house with my mate all. Not a single one! I was so shocked I nearly fell over (though, admittedly, that could’ve been the sambuca). But even without the students, it was a completely authentic student living environment. And it really took me back to the nightmare of living with other people.
I never quite took to communal living during my student days. When I was in halls at university I had the misfortune of having the room next to the toilets and across from the kitchen (where everyone used to gather in a pissed frenzy after a night out).
I distinctly remember, after a couple of weeks of constant late night disturbance and banging doors, that I decided to use my sleepless night to write an appeal to my tormentors, which I stuck on the kitchen door. When that was subsequently ignored, I then proceeded to write a series of ‘humorous’ threats which I again put up on display. (I recall one in particular which stated that, if everyone didn’t shut the fuck up, I would hang their coagulated arteries like fairy lights along the hall).
I do cringe when I think back to that first term at uni, because I sounded just a teensy bit like a psychopath who’d slipped under the UCAS radar.
Much to my surprise, some of my hall mates actually told me that they looked forward to my notices on the kitchen door and asked if I’d be writing more of them. It felt a little bit like someone asking me to punch them in the face repeatedly because they admired my balletic style of boxing and dizzying uppercuts. I carried on writing quite happily until someone scrawled “Fuck off! You sad bastard!” all over one of my kitchen notices. I then retired them with immediate effect.
Even though the chances of my ever returning to a house-share situation are slim to nothing, the very thought brings me out in a cold sweat. I currently reside in a flat with my girlfriend, but I even find living in the same building as other people difficult. Why? Well, my neighbours’ cars all look like they’ve been valet parked by Stevie Wonder on our small driveway; I’m one step away from announcing a door-closing master class for the idiots who constantly leave the security door ajar; and the new guy downstairs can’t go in and out of his flat without slamming the fucking door every time.
Thank god I have my flat to retreat to.
But if I ever had to live so closely with other people again – with their inconsiderateness and 24/7 homage to A Life of Grime – I just know I’d end up instigating a drunken round of the fortune teller game, where every player would unfold the paper object to discover the message: “You Will Die Soon”. I’d then go mental with a penne frisbee.
I couldn’t thank my mate enough for giving me somewhere to crash after our night out drinking (he’s a top bloke), but the experience took me back to a way of living that I’m glad I’ve left behind. Really glad.