Gentlemen’s Rules & A Lady’s Insight.

Oh alcohol. There’s an allure in pouring you down our throats so strong, so overpowering, that means we’re happy to sacrifice the following day for you. We’ll happy splutter our way through god-awful cocktails, down shots of acidic filth, and chug on gassy pints in order to maximise your effects. We condition ourselves into thinking that whisky doesn’t scorch the back of our throats, that cider doesn’t smell like the dodgier subways in city centres, and that Fosters doesn’t taste like shit (okay, maybe too far) in order to enjoy you.

So far gone is our obsession, our determination to experience every humiliating consequence that booze affords us; that drinking, at some point in the hazy and probably forgotten past, became a platform for natural human curiosity.

Who can remember the most? Does this stain? Can I shot this? Who can throw up the least? What’s the fastest way of getting this vodka into my face? What would actually happen if I tried to kiss the bouncer? Can you be arrested for this? Where are my clothes?

It’s beautiful, really. Aside from all the vomit. And social damage. Other than that. Forget that. The point is, drinking does a strange thing to us. It makes us question who we are (and where we are, and who it is in our bed, and…), and it brings us closer together. If we can both down a pint in less than four seconds, then it probably means we should be best friends. Or something.

I was recently given the rare and questionable honour of being allowed to sit in on your standard rugby lads social. For those of you who, like me prior to the event, only know of rugby socials from the infamous headlines they make, this was both a daunting and exciting offer. I was being given a prime spot- a real life woman feminist on the inside of a banter-heavy LAD social. I was eager with a morbid curiosity to see how offended I would be, what laws would be broken, and what limits these boys could be pushed to.

Under strict instructions to not to take photographs (so as to protect the secretive nature of the pre-drinking), and more importantly not to partake in the drinking games (for my own safety), I watched, mystified, by the events unfolding in front of me. Several, several pints were set out on the table at arrival. The boys were suited up, arrived on time and took their seats. After calming down the general hubbub of 20 guys chatting happily away- with a general sense of dread and excitement bubbling at the sight of all the drinks prepared before them- the drinking began.

The pre-drinking session strictly adhered to Gentlemen’s Rules. I’d never seen these in action before, but they basically consist of self-governed laws that tell you what you’re not allowed to do during a drinking session. Swearing is out. The word “drink” is out- “consume” or “beverage” replaces. I think there’s a rule about using only your left hand. Toilet breaks must gain permission from the leader, the social secretary. People must be referred to using their full titles (as assigned by the social secretary) or their surnames. There are plenty more rules that probably went straight over my head- but the general gist is that you have to behave yourself. The penalty for breaking a rule is you have to drink. Or consume. Whatever.

So far so civilised. Guests were at the disposition of the witty social secretary, who had set up various drinking challenges for the boys. Pint downing competitions, readings of poems, a race to see how quickly members could produce then drink a cup of “Earl Jag” (pronounced /erl yay/- Earl Grey with a generous shot of Jagermeister, for the uninitiated). Some members, for their previous sins, had to chug a lethal and vile looking combination of cider, Jagermeister, ale, and god knows what else. Drinking game rules were heartily enforced, and any pint-downing punishment was cheerfully accompanied by a bizarre loutish rendition of Yellow Submarine.

They were all considerably less sober than when they started, and in fear of being vomited or spilt on, I scarpered from the midst of the group to a safe corner to watch the nature documentary unfold at a distance. Wise move on my part, because the social become more animated and less orderly as the night went on. The atmosphere was incredible- of solidarity and competition. I’ve never seen so many people having such a good time doing something that they’re all aware will make them vomit- sorry “chunder”- in the impending hours. Partly, I was jealous that I couldn’t get more involved in the excitement. Mostly I was just relieved that it wasn’t me being forced to sing “Goodbye My Lover” topless on a chair having just downed several ales.

So what did my insight to this ritualistic and overtly masculine bonding session provide? I’m not really sure- in my keenness to make my experience as authentic as possible (for purely journalistic reasons, you understand), I’d had two whole pints of fruit cider and a shot of blackcurrant poison and neglected to take notes. In any case, I was impressed with how organised the rowdiness was. Guests happily submitted to the rules and tormented each other tirelessly on failure to adhere.

The social was deemed a success by all, not least by the takings at the bar, and everyone uprooted ready to go the nearest club for a night of more drinks, fist-pumping and general debauchery. In high spirits, the boys went for a quick “tactical chunder” to facilitate more drinking later on and pootled off on their merry way. The damage was minimal- only a few things had been broken within repair, no one had spilt or vomited anywhere inappropriate, and I hadn’t found even the smallest thing to take offence by. I was impressed. This rugby social proved that while the whole uniLAD debate fades into obscurity, these boys still know how to have a good time, without ending up in the columns of the Daily Mail. And almost everyone left with as many eyebrows as they started the night with, so everybody wins.


How To Not Revise.

Exam season. The hours spent translating your garbled and useless notes into flashcards. Surviving solely on energy drinks and fear of failure. Only ever raising your head from your blank notepad to scowl at strangers who dare make a sound that would almost definitely interrupt your “work” session, were you actually doing any. And if you’re anything like me, the reason exam season is so utterly shit isn’t the thought of sitting in silent rooms with invigilators awkwardly reading over your shoulder- it’s the dreaded “ugh-god-I don’t-want-to-revise” slumping feeling that’ll hover around you and the library in the run up to the actual paper.

It’s not that you don’t want to do well. It’s not that you aren’t capable of learning the stuff. It’s just that there’s somewhere in the region of seventeen thousand other things you’d rather do before sprawling your lecture notes out in front of you and sharply realising that you remember nothing of any value from an entire academic year. Roughly half of those things involve some form of physical pain or discomfort, but they’re still preferable to the tedious mountain ahead of you.

Uh, revision. No one can possibly have ever enjoyed revision. The dull re-reading of lecture Powerpoints has never, in all history of Powerpoints, stirred feelings of joy or amusement in any student. They’re usually hungover, staring at hastily scribbled notes dotted with lost hangman games and to-do lists, nurturing a vague sense of contempt for everything, everywhere.  Alternatively, they’re tentatively questioning their friends- trying to gauge how little work everyone else is doing in order to abate the overwhelming feeling of guilt in the back of their minds. The guilt that stares at you like the emotional love child of your mother realising you completely forgot her birthday and the look of pure confused sorrow a puppy will give you when you accidentally tread on it’s paw.

This is the time of year where we should all be hunkering down and studying. You know, studying. Making sense of things lecturers told you seven weeks ago while you were gently snoring away at the back of the room . Studying! It’s cramming an entire year’s reading list into three nights. It’s dutifully highlighting your notes in the vain hope that by colouring the entire page in luminous yellow you’ll magically absorb every word. You must’ve heard of studying. It’s what everyone else is doing while you’re reading this.

But instead of that, students come up with a plethora of distracting and time consuming things to do instead. Usually we aim for something that we could argue holds some kind of value to our life, like finding a Youtube video that teaches you how to make quiche from scratch, or carefully picking out outfits for the summer holidays you haven’t booked yet. We shrilly justify these things with a mild sense of panic and fear of being caught out if our motives are questioned.

“I have to label every single item in the fridge and food cupboards, because, well, I think it’s high time we actualised a structure in this kitchen, you know- I found a mouldy carrot the other month- terrible- and I’m in the process of developing a spreadsheet to note down what everyone’s eaten already, and really, if you’re against this, then, well, you can just, well, fuck off really.”

I take some comfort in knowing I have friends who are that the two opposite ends of the revision scale. My closest friend had to be physically forced into revising for a syntax module last year (though I don’t blame her…), yet another of my close friends genuinely did not know what the word “procrastination” meant, which made me love her even more, and broke my heart simultaneously. Wedging myself in between these two extremes makes for an only slightly uncomfortable stance; a cosy middle that consists of making notes and flashcards, but only of slight educational value. Reading the lecture notes whilst sipping fruit cider in the garden. Reading the summary of the studies I’m supposed to be committing to memory.

So when you decide to tentatively ask me how much revision I’ve done for the upcoming exam, instead of doing my usual trick of lying and making out I’ve been hitting the library from 7am till 9pm daily, rather than watching re-runs of Scrubs all week, I’m going to be honest with you. “Revise? Ha, no, I wrote a blog instead.”


Facing Thirty: Only Eleven Years To Go.

When I first moved to university, alongside all the dilemmas of meeting new people and starting a new course, one of the main worries I had was how I intended on surviving. You know, how to put the washing machine on, how to change a socket, how to cook. These things seemed pretty key to general existence, and I’m ashamed to say that prior to my first day on campus, I’d never successfully completed any of them.

That’s not to say I was completely unprepared. I’d made my fair share of supernoodles in the past, and on occasion done a spot of ironing. But I was under no illusion- these core skills weren’t going to be enough to get me through the next three years (and also the rest of my life…). My mum used to have to threaten throwing everything in my room away before I’d actually consider cleaning it, so “reluctant” kinda covers my general attitude towards domesticity.

A year and a half (more than that, really) into living independently and I’m only marginally wiser. My dirty pots get washed sporadically (sorry, housemates) and my room is like treading through a minefield- but replace explosives with bags of hula hoops or plugs. In all honesty, whenever I say I’m going to tidy my room, in all reality I’ve usually found something cool I’d forgotten about and begun a four hour playing session with it. It doesn’t even have to be especially entertaining- my old Gameboy provides me with as much distraction as a pink paperclip. I’ll lounge on top of a pile worn clothes, toying with the back to an earring I lost months ago, whilst reading my guide to pick-up lines in Mandarin (best birthday present ever), letting time slip away around me. Then, three and a half hours later- I’ve achieved nothing. You know, other than learning how to say “Are you still wearing underwear? Well, then my my watch must be 15 minutes fast.” in Chinese. And as much as that’s vital to every day life, I really needed to find my lecture notes from underneath a fortnight’s worth of books, clothes and discarded food packaging

Barricaded into my room, mid-tidy up session

I have this image in my head of adulthood- the far off future when I’ll understand tax codes and own sensible shoes and know how to make gnocchi. Where I’ll go into Marks and Spencer’s to buy birthday presents, and I’ll know the numbers of a few decent plumbers and understand the difference between Shiraz and Rioja. It’s going to happen eventually, and I’d quite confidently tell you that I’ll have accomplished these feats by the time I’m thirty.That seems like a reasonable age to be discussing mortgages. I may have even gotten around to some other life-achievements by then, you know, if I’m not too busy thinking about my pending hip replacement.

This pretty idyllic view of my life in eleven years time is kind of bewildering for me. It’s my own deadline, and it doesn’t seem quite far away enough any more. If I’ve only got just over a decade to start understanding the difference in kitchen cleaning products and how much is appropriate to drink at a networking event, then I should probably have some grounding in the basics right now.

As it stands I’m currently about as much use as lecture in syntactic theory. I’ve never successfully manned a washing machine without supervision, and I don’t have even the loosest idea how to go about making a Sunday Roast. I could probably figure out how to change a fuse, but I’d have to be emotionally prepared for a few electric shocks along the way.

And I’m by no means the least competent person I know. I imagine very few of my similarly-aged friends would feel ready equipped to be a proper, independent, taking-out-the-bins type adult. I think I speak for at least most of us when I say we’re all quite happy to continue in this bizarre student world of adulthood; where the fruit content in cider counts toward your five a day and doing the food shop means skidding round Tesco on a trolley.

Thinking about these things sends me into a downward spiral of panic. What if I’m the only person I know by the time I’m forty who hasn’t hosted a dinner party? What if everyone else is comparing notes on home insurance and I’m still trying to make a portion of pasta stretch to three meals because I can’t be arsed to get some food in?

While calmly deteriorating into a recycling-collection-date frenzy, dwelling on these great life mysteries, I had an epiphany. Eleven years ago, I was eight years old. I didn’t know my left from right properly, nor how to read a clock that used Roman numerals. I couldn’t be trusted to run a bath without fear of a mini-flood, and I wasn’t even tall enough to turn the central heating on, never mind know what to do if it wasn’t working. Now, a fully functioning nineteen year old, and I’m more than capable of all these things. They seemed impossible and far off when I was still strutting around in jelly shoes, but then so did graduating from primary school. If I’ve overcome eleven years of growing up without any major mishaps once before, I think I’m going to be able to do it again. And if I place learning how to calculate my electricity bill in the same boat as learning how to write joined-up, then I’m counting on it coming naturally after a period of trial and error, and only one or two situations where my lack of ability embarrasses me enough to motivate actually learning how to do it properly.


Love in the Library: The Yorker Archives

Summer term. It should be stirring up feelings of freedom and an insatiable desire for ice-cream, but instead it means one thing and one thing only for us hard-working students. It’s exam period, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Glum trips to the library every day; merciless hunts for a computer in the Harry Fairhurst building; a nagging feeling of neglecting your degree every time you choose a night out or an episode of The Voice over committing your flashcards to memory. Even if you don’t have any exams, or are a first year that couldn’t care less about your altogether formative round of essays, you’ll be pretty much alone- the entire university migrates in summer term to the depths of JB Morrell, and doesn’t resurface until Summer Ball.
Given this less than romantic setting, you would be forgiven for assuming that finding love lurking in the library is just as likely as finding it in Reflex on local’s night. Well you’d be wrong. Maybe it’s the smell of stress and freshly renewed books, or the general sense of desperation and panic that hovers around Key Texts, but whatever it is, make the most of it now. You have exams to be revising for; there simply isn’t time to be off galavanting on actual dates.
Step One.
Nab yourself a decent spot. If you’re picky about the type of soulmate you want to stumble across, choose your location wisely. You want a creative partner? Head off to the Literature or History of Art sections. Fancy a macho sports player? First find out if we offer a sports science degree, and then patiently wait in that area. You get the gist.
Step Two.
Make yourself desirable. You need to get attention after all! The most successful way of getting people to notice you in the library is to be as much of a nuisance as possible. Take up two or more seats; check out every book (even if unnecessary to your revision session) and pile them up around you; and have your sexiest soundtrack blasting through your iPod speakers. That way, while people are throwing you dirty looks, you can catch their eyes and throw them a disarming smile that just screams “let’s go make out behind the journal articles”.
Step Three.
Now you’ve found yourself a suitable and prime location, and gained sufficient attention from all your new potential partners, it’s time to make your move. This is all down to personal preference. If you’re the confident type, a simple wink and nod towards the nearest private spot for a getting-to-know-you session should do the trick. If you’re more subtle, try “accidentally” spilling your water bottle all over their freshly finished essay, and offering to get them a coffee from the £1 vending machine to make up for it. Whichever path you choose, they’ll love you either way. Who said romance was dead?
And if that doesn’t work, then maybe focussing on your upcoming exams and due dates will serve you better. Who knows, perhaps the time you spend revising and writing essays will cultivate you into a more desirable person? And failing that, there’s always Reflex on local’s night.