Wednesday, 11 January 2012
Day 11 – Blancmange – Living on the Ceiling
University is supposed to be a place of academia and study, a place where people discuss cerebral subjects and surround themselves in an atmosphere of learning and intellectual pursuits.
It was for me.
Additionally, it was a place of partying and absolute fun.
During my first year in Liverpool I was like the proverbial kid in a candy shop. I was away from home and felt like a puppy liberated from the leash. I ran around like a lunatic, sampling everything.
I had money (though not a lot) and I could do what I wanted. I could go to the pub, meet friends, stay up late, lie in and drink like an idiot.
I’m not going to bore you with my tales of excess and tomfoolery – there are too many to mention – but I had to calm down, that much was certain. Sadly, it took a couple of years for me to fully appreciate what I was doing.
I met countless new people: intellectuals, pseudo-intellectuals, fools, friends and foes.
It was mind-blowing and for a while I was lost. It was like being drunk (and drink was involved of course) although I mean the surreal feeling of being drunk rather than the physical symptoms. It was almost like a waking dream.
University is totally unlike the school experience. Attending lectures instead of lessons and being able to go and sit in a bar drinking coffee with your new friends is a bizarre experience. There were people from all walks of life.
I met one of my best friends there but his background is diametrically opposite to mine. I came from a poor working class background with a dad who worked in a factory and a mum who was a secretary before giving it up to take cleaning jobs to make ends meet.
My friend J went to public school and came from the richest part of Birmingham. His mother was a doctor and his father a vicar. His accent was and is extremely posh, his manners pristine, his outlook on life and his experiences completely different from mine.
Yet we bonded and became best mates, along with a group of other people who I still keep in touch with today.
After a couple of weeks of being a party animal I suddenly realised why I was at university and what I was meant to achieve. I had to be very careful as I had little money. I started to work.
And I actually enjoyed it. Maths took on a whole new level of difficulty and I found myself having to work really hard. My very first Maths homework involved ten really difficult questions. It took me two days to answer the first one and I struggled.
We were taught theorem after theorem, lemma after lemma (yes – what IS a lemma? It is a stepping stone to a larger result rather than theorem- apparently).
Computer Science was new and I loved it and I threw myself whole heartedly into it. I also had to endure statistics, numerical analysis and a few other bits and pieces.
There was a lot to learn and it was tough.
Nevertheless, as I have hinted, we found times to let down our hair and usually popped into our local pub on a Saturday Night – the Aigburth Arms.
The pub had a video jukebox and we used to hope that the locals put on our favourite songs (we would have but we had little money to waste). One of my favourites was the aforementioned Living on the Ceiling.
The locals in the pub didn’t take kindly to students and there was an uneasy atmosphere sometimes. We didn’t help by being loud and boorish. I was a target for abuse on a couple of occasions because, of all my mates, I looked like an easier target.
As a young man I was still slightly arrogant, slightly cocky and didn’t react favourably when somebody who I didn’t know, decided to take the piss. With blond hair and glasses, I was good fodder for the witty Scouse put down.
“Look at ‘im here,” said one guy once when I was standing at the bar. “It’s Bamber Gascoigne.”
These days I would laugh with them and not react at all. In those days I was not so civil and regarded such banter as a form of verbal bullying – and my response was not pleasant, particularly when fuelled by a little ale.
“Very funny,” I retorted. “Great imagination. Bet you’ve never watched University Challenge, have you? Can you even spell it? I’d offer you a starter for ten – but I bet you can’t count to ten, can you?”
I was an idiot and if I hadn’t been with a group of mates that particular response might have turned ugly. I was fairly lucky really – and I realised it when I returned to the table and my mates were horrified at what I had said, so much so that they feared reprisals. There were none – thankfully.
Incidents like this make me cringe when I look back at them.
It was essential that I grew up instead of acting like an arse. And I started to realise this and act accordingly.
The independence, the need to look after my own finances, the fear of failure and the freedom to express myself and do as I pleased all began to contribute to my becoming something else.
I was finally going to become a mature person.
And I liked the idea very much.