When I think back to the period of my life between 1981 and 1984, I feel a deep sense of fierce nostalgia and excitement. It was the period of my life when I evolved from a spotty naïve little kid into a more focussed young adult.
That was the time I was a student at the University of Liverpool.
So many things happened during that time that I could almost write a book about them all. However, the lifestyle was something that stands out.
At the time, there was a TV comedy series called The Young Ones about four students sharing a house. While it was a rather extreme portrayal of life as a student with extreme and unbelievably anarchic storylines, there were some scenes that reflected my life as a student enjoying communal living.
Scenes like this:
I had a taste of university life again a couple of years ago when I visited my eldest lad at university in Newcastle. He lived with a few other students and they shared a communal kitchen and bathroom. I looked around the place with a smile because the place looked like a bomb had gone off in it. The bathroom was disgusting and the kitchen had a “lived in” feel about it. It looked like neither had been cleaned for ages.
The memories came flooding back, particularly when he told me that he had made an effort to “tidy up the kitchen” for our visit.
Life was the same for me back in the 1980’s. Communal living with seven other students was an unlikely fusion of entertainment and disgustingness, an amalgam of comradeship and deviousness.
Some of these guys were my best friends and remain so after all these years. Nevertheless, at the time, we had a love/hate relationship with each other due to the pressures of communal living.
Each person had different levels of tolerance when it came to cleanliness, trust and expected behaviour.
Here are some examples (with the names changed to protect the guilty!).
Peter decided that he wanted to entertain a young woman and impress her by making a Spanish omelette. Sadly, he didn’t have a frying pan so he thought to himself “I’ll just use Dave’s”.
He didn’t ask me or tell me.
I would have said yes, of course, and asked him to clean it afterwards, something I always do. I have a bugbear about dirty plates and will always wash up as soon as I can after eating.
Two days after Peter had entertained his young lady friend, I wanted to use my frying pan. I kept my pots in a cupboard, clearly labelled “Dave” and I knew that my clean pan would be in there because I hadn’t used it. I couldn’t find it.
“Has anyone seen my frying pan?” I asked.
Nobody had seen it and Peter wasn’t around. In the sink, there was a huge pile of dirty washing up (not mine I hasten to add). With my heart sinking, I systematically deconstructed the foul mass of plates, cutlery and pots. When I reached the bottom, I found my pan. At first I didn’t recognise it as it was covered in the burnt remains of a two day old Spanish omelette.
|My pan was WORSE than this!|
I was livid. It took me hours to clean it up and when he eventually returned, I was tempted to either use the pan on Peter as a weapon or a suppository.
I can’t claim to be innocent. Once, I started cooking bacon on a grill that was full of hardened fat (it had never been cleaned to that point). I popped to the toilet and when I returned, I found that the fat had caught fire, cremating my bacon and threatening to burn down the kitchen. With another student’s help and using a fire blanket, we managed to put the fire out but not before the entire flat was full of smoke and every single surface covered in a fine black soot.
Unlike Peter, I was filled with remorse and spent the next few hours cleaning the entire kitchen and washing everything up. When I had finished the only trace of my disaster were a few scorch marks on the cooker.
Sadly, however, another flatmate wasn’t as anal about cleanliness as I am. Months later, the exact same thing happened to him but rather than cleaning everything, he simply put out the fire and went back to his room as if nothing had happened. The timing of this accident was terrible because later that day, the landlady popped around and witnessed the carnage in the kitchen. We were all threatened with eviction as a result but managed to avoid this drastic action by performing the same decontamination operation that I had done.
The fridge was another source of pain. Some of us clearly labelled our food because although we were good mates, we had made an unwritten pact never to have communal food – including milk and bread. Sadly this led to numerous arguments. We all labelled our own items as if this act would protect our food.
I lost count of the number of times one of my so-called mates had “borrowed” my food. Even that phrase “borrowed my food” makes me laugh because we never paid it back. I was so fed up of my food disappearing that I stooped to their depths of criminality and started stealing their food instead.
The result was total mistrust.
This was aggravated by the fact that we were all absolutely skint, and when our food vanished it was almost as if we had been robbed of what little money we owned. I started storing all my food in my room and I even considered buying my own fridge.
I’ll leave you with the most disgusting thing that happened in my final year. I have a phobia for mouldy food. If I open a packet of cheese and find a little tiny bit of mould on it, the whole thing goes in the bin. Some deranged people will simply cut off the mould and carry on eating it. These people are either aliens or just plain sick (Of course, I realise that I may have insulted you, dear reader, but please be aware that when confronted with mould, I myself mutate into a deranged subhuman monster, lashing out at any other human being in the vicinity for not having spotted the mould and disposed of the cheese in the first place).
During my last year, we opened a cupboard that none of my flatmates claimed to have used. In that cupboard was a loaf of bread. That loaf of bread had been living in that cupboard for months. It’s original colour (which may have been white or brown) had vanished and been replaced by the sickest green I had ever seen.
It was almost alive!!
One brave soul lifted it out and put it in an already overflowing bin in the kitchen. I ran out of the kitchen screaming and locked myself in my room for four days until all traces of the loaf had been disposed of.
Those memories sound quite bad but I still recall them with fondness. Next month we are having a reunion in Liverpool where I am sure we will reminisce about some of the pain of communal living.
Hopefully, by then, I may just have forgiven Peter.