Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Scurvy, strippers and student days

I was fiddling with the car radio this morning, trying to find a station that wasn’t airing dubious adverts loaded with double entendre aimed at men with problems in the bedroom department. I hit upon a discussion about two chaps whom the radio presenter knew who amazingly in this day and age had managed to go down with scurvy. They had achieved this minor medical miracle by dint of living off a solid diet of sausages encased in white bread sandwiches. I didn’t hear the full story but I did gather part of it was they had moved into a flat together with funds that only stretched to a barbeque, hence the sausages,and a TV.

February/March is the start of the University year in Australia and I am beginning to take more interest in the whole thing given we are galloping towards the first of the Drama Queens reaching the end of her school career. If we were still in the UK or indeed in the US this would generally mean the signal to move out of the parental home to embark on student life. This is sadly not the case in Sydney where the majority of students live at home. Indeed the Australian young often live at home until they marry, a down under version of the Italian ‘bamboccioni’ phenomenon.

Sadly for the Drama Queens, I am giving notice now that we are not expecting them to be living at home as students. Aside for reasons connected with parental sanity, I think student years offer such a fabulous chance to live away from home whilst still being in a semi protected environment.

From a personal perspective my three years at university, approximately 500 km from home, were the most formative years of my life. Being a student at home or away is a life enriching privilege but if I had been living at home, no matter how tolerant my parents, I might have missed out on a number of character forming episodes, including the following:

Sitting in friends’ rooms until the early hours of the morning. If ‘Echo and the Bunnymen’ rings a bell you were probably of that era. Likewise if Chris De Burgh’s ‘Patricia the Stripper’ makes the hair on your arms stand up, then you too were probably hanging out on Y staircase, Angel Court during 1983.

Drinking gin mixed with water and sugar because the tonic had run out.

Discovering exotic foods such as taramasalata and subsequently eating it with brown bread every day for lunch for a term – if you came from Glasgow in the 1980s, you too might have classed tarama as exotic. Come to think of it I probably only just avoided scurvy – the lemon I squeezed on it probably headed it off.

Making friends with people with names such as Benedict and Oliver that would given rise to sniggers in Glasgow where people were called manly names such as Cameron, Forbes or James.

Having breakfast in hall and realising those with a high standard of personal grooming stood out as a rarity at 7.30a.m. and that it was totally socially acceptable to appear bleary eyed and in an unbrushed state for bacon and toast.

Being thrown in at the deep end, knowing no one and then discovering this gave boundless opportunity for reinvention and fresh starts without the dragging gormlessness of school persona.

Eating raw lentils as the packet was the only thing left in the communal store cupboard and we were too lazy to cook them – this last point is probably a classic definition of a student.

Most importantly, making the most fabulous friends, who are still my closest friends today. I rarely see them, but they, lucky people, are still the ones I ring at 2 a.m. their time, with the immortal words fitting most emotional occasions, good and bad, “You won’t believe what’s happened to me.”


  1. How funny to glimpse that pure cultural impression that Cameron and Forbes are more manly sounding than Benedict and Oliver. All four names are sound rather silly to a Texas, where Billy Bob and Frank Robert would be considered men names. Love your insight on everything!

  2. Hi Francine, bizarre how names do resonate. I can categorically say I never ran across a Billy Bob during my Scottish teenage years - did however meet a Lysander at university which struck me as very exotic.