Thursday, 24 May 2012

Fresher No More: Gracie's first year of university.

Once again, my life is packed up in boxes. I'm saying goodbye to "my little room" in West Downs Student Village after nearly ten months of living here, and returning to "my big room" (which in actuality is probably the exact same size) in my little hometown of Battle, East Sussex. My first year of university is over.

I'm not really sure how to even begin to say goodbye to the university, to the village or to all the amazing people I see every day.

My little room in Flat 38 has been a safe haven for me, my own private space away from parents and little sisters to do whatever I wish in; having said that, the rebellious acts that take place in this room are fairly limited to excessive drinking, staying up late and having a ridiculous amount of sex. I won't be starting a rebel movement any time soon, I'm pretty sure that's average behaviour for a student. In my family home, however, I am often told not to shut my bedroom door (because it's rude and mischievous), to be in bed by a certain time and to generally behave myself while there are other people in the house. So the things I will miss most about Room 3, Flat 38 include: light switch next to the bed, the sink next to my wardrobe, my wall of photos, my desk drawers full of chocolate and sweets, my super-soft desk chair (stolen sofa chair from the kitchen), my window with a gorgeous view, and my mysterious and luxurious non-university mattress that came with the room (which I intend to steal when I leave on Saturday).

The flat itself, or rather "house" as the flats in West Downs are referred to, is something I never thought I'd miss, but I may do after all. Even my flatmates, whom were somewhat awkward and unusual when we moved in, have become friends over the past few months after we all relaxed with each other and developed rapport - which was really just constant teasing and slagging off. Obnoxious 30 year-old American Frank "The Tank" with his "don't mess with Texas" T-shirts, war stories and terrible jokes has been both a nightmare and a comfort to have living across the hall from me. He teases me relentlessly, makes fun of anything from my accent to my choice of boys, but deep down I know that he looks out for me and would be the first one on the scene should anything go wrong. Chinese student Lance struggles with English and yet is still the funniest person in the whole flat, and we have had some lovely chats about his home in China and our mutual love of Adele. 21 year-old Brummy Sean is a Primary Ed student and is always bringing home new creations such as posters and Ferris wheels made out of lolly sticks and plastic cups. Every chair in the kitchen is covered in glitter and paint thanks to him. He's also a relationship expert, having been a loving and dedicated boyfriend for nearly five years and therefore an unquestionable authority when it comes to solving other peoples' relationship problems. He's also the one who started the flat trend of screaming "BITCH!" (usually followed by "make me a sandwich!") at one another for no apparent reason. Alice In Wonderland is a 20 year-old blonde beauty who wears beautiful clothes and has (or apparently shares with me) a questionable taste in boys. She tells everyone off for making mess in the kitchen, and always cooks the same three meals for herself every day: Nutella on toast and tea for breakfast, tomato soup for lunch, pasta with carrots and some form of meat for dinner. Gemma the lesbian is the ghost flatmate; we see evidence that she has been here, but we never seem to pin her down. She uses her kitchen items and sometimes we hear creaks upstairs in her room, but she hardly ever materializes. She's built like a little boy, wears skinny jeans and glasses and has a nervous and awkward speaking voice. We often joke that she lives in one of the cupboards in the kitchen with Henry the Hoover. Jackie "Jack Jones" is the first person I met when moving in, and the one I spent the most time with while living here. She's a Portsmouth gal, which makes her outgoing, darkly funny and cynical at times. She loves clubbing and drinking, and her drink of choice is Jack Daniels - instant respect. We reached a point when we were talking/thinking alike, and cooking the same meals for dinner (fried eggs, "good shout").
I didn't particularly enjoy sharing a shower and toilet with the two boys on the ground floor, especially since one of those boys was a big hairy American, but thankfully I got used to it. Still, one of the things I am most excited to be going home to is my power shower (mmmmm).
Flat memories are few, considering I spent a lot of my time with other people in their flats, but the few I have were special. Staying up until 3am talking about love and life in the kitchen with Frank, coming home drunk many a time AND watching flatmates come home drunk, climbing in through the kitchen window when we couldn't be bothered to unlock the door, decorating the place for Christmas, writing filthy messages on the fridge with magnets, Nerf gun wars, sellotaping the whole kitchen as a surprise for those coming home from a night out, Sean's poker nights with the lads, all of us bitching about Maria the lazy cleaner, watching The Mighty Boosh and playing video games at the kitchen table all night long.
I still haven't quite worked out how I'm going to say goodbye to my flatmates, or the flat itself, so I'm hoping the words will just come to me on the day.

When I wasn't in my little room or hanging out with the misfits in my kitchen, I was down the road at St Lizzies or across the street in flats 77-80. I've already dedicated a post to my friends down the road and across the street, but I can't not include them in my ridiculously long end-of-uni post.
The St Lizzies people were the first group I met, besides my flatmates, when I started in September. We all spent an evening getting a Chinese takeaway and playing zombie video games; this was the night I got the phone number of a girl I have ended up renting a house with next year. Funny. I've spent most of my time walking back and forth along the main road between West Downs Student Village and St Elizabeths Hall; dressed as a Pokemon, with a towel wrapped around my head and hair dye setting in, in pyjamas and a dressing gown, in high heels and a smart dress, covered in paint and foam... I've had the locals of Winchester staring at me as they wait for the bus, tutting as they pass me on the street and shaking their heads while driving alongside me. Totally worth it. I've also earned the nickname "Latcher" from the St Lizzies inhabitants, because I am constantly putting their front door on the latch so I can come in whenever I want. I've got in trouble with a few for referring to Lizzies as "The Slums" and apologized for it, adding that the St Lizzies folks are one of the best groups of people I've met at uni.
The Lizzies lot are second only to my fellow West Downers, specifically those in flats 77, 78 and 80. I also have a couple of lovely friends in flats 37 and 60. One thing you should all know about West Downs: it's the most friendly and social place on campus. Everyone is out and about, wandering between flats and catching up with one another on Main Street, calling out of windows and off balconies... And when the sun comes out, oh my. Everyone flocks to the green areas, sunbathing and relaxing and playing music. Not like Queens Road, just down the hill - their "village" consists of several blocks of flats, and barely any common outside area to speak of. The Queens inhabitants (or "Queens wankers", if you like) are more socialized with their own flats than the others around them. It doesn't seem worth the extra £1,000 they all pay per year. Not that I don't have a few good friends down in Queens, but still, my loyalty is to West Downs. Last night, after the last BOP party of the year, my friends and I barricaded and vandalised a couple of Queens flats, and ran away shouting "West Downs is the BEST, pricks!"
I have met the loveliest group of friends in West Downs, friends that I will miss immensely over the holidays, and in fact that I plan on meeting up with a few times before we return in September. I have trouble trusting people when they say "friends forever" or "friends for life", because I've been let down in the past, but even if we lose touch after three years, which I doubt we will, I won't regret anything.

Nights out are a big part of uni, as is drinking. I was saying last night that I have been drunk more times at uni than I have anywhere else. It's a daily occupation here, drinking, and has been quite a shock to my system over the past academic year. Being one of the youngest in my year group, I was among the last to turn eighteen and so missed out on nearly a whole year of nights out and alcohol abuse. So when it all kicked off in September, I was completely unprepared but desperate to make up for a year of watching everyone else go out and drink without me. Since then I have spent nights out in town, nights at the SU, nights in with takeaways, movies and cider, all with the wonderful friends I have made here. I've come home at 3am covered in highlighter pen and permanent marker scribbles, with glowsticks attached to my underwear, with cat whiskers painted on my face, soaked in multi-coloured UV paint, with red lipstick drawings all down my legs, carrying the remnants of a large Dominos pizza, and a few times I have been lucky enough to bring someone home with me. Of all the things at uni that have inspired blog posts, I think drinking is the top one.

I'm quite relieved and glad that I never joined a sports team. Besides my brief six-week stint as a member of the tennis team, I've managed to avoid the horror and humiliation of being in a university team. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to join two teams in particular (Dodgeball and Ultimate) but sadly I can't purely because a girl who loathes me is on both of them. What are the odds? Anyway, I'm not cut out for tournaments or matches, nor am I prepared in both mind and body for the social requirements of being in a team. Just six weeks as a Fresher on the tennis team was enough embarrassment and terror for me; a series of vile dirty pints being drunk out of wellington boots, penis-shaped items being thrust in my mouth, an endless amount of press-ups on the dancefloor, shots poured down my body and sucked out of various orifices, obscenities written all over my skin, and only two sessions of tennis training. And that's nothing compared to the more established sports teams. Just last night, at the last BOP of the year, we were pre-drinking outside in the sunshine and watching the team socials happening on the field opposite. The hockey girls were playing some kind of game involving condoms containing all different kinds of alcohol and dangling from a hockey stick, and by 8pm they were all throwing up in the trees; they then filled a bowl with their own sick and threw it all over the football team lads, screaming "chunder bowl!!!" then running away giggling. The football boys then retaliated by filling a water gun with their piss and spraying the girls with it.
Still, sitting there watching all this, I couldn't help but think "this behaviour would never be acceptable anywhere else, but it's the norm at uni." It's a different world here. One where you can walk down the main street of your student village barefoot and absolutely bladdered at 4pm, an ice cream van visits every day, it is not socially acceptable to go to bed before it's light outside or to wake up before the sun is at its highest in the sky, going out in full fancy dress is just a regular Friday night, the Walk Of Shame happens every week, you are constantly finding condoms on your stairs or in the hallway, and someone can text you and ask if you want to "hang out" at 1am.

Looking back over blog posts before uni, I realise that they mostly revolved around my personal life and my mixed feelings about relationships, and most of all my bad luck in the romance department. I like to think that since coming to uni, my opinion on what is worthy of publishing has improved, and my posts are more varied and interesting, and well, less whiny and tragic. Also, since being here I've had more positive experiences where my personal life is concerned. I won't go into detail because a) those involved might feel awkward or uncomfortable b) I may gush, and c) to quote Olive Penderghast, "it is nobody's goddamn business". I won't be cheesy and write about my best kiss to date which took place amongst a flurry of foam, my adventure to London, my trips to the cinema, or dancing in the street at 2am in my pyjamas with a gorgeous guy in a suit. I won't mention spending a day in the sunshine plucking daisies and muttering "loves me, loves me not" (always "loves me not"; either the daisies are all against me or some things just never change). Mind you, no matter what my personal feelings for someone are, if things don't work out for whatever reason, I know we'll still be the best of friends. And that's a nice feeling.

I've arranged to see friends from uni over the summer months already. There's talk of nights out in Bournemouth in June, and I'll be staying at my dear Rikki's place in Poole for a few days. I'm visiting everyone when they all move into their new houses in July (I don't move into mine until late August). After saying goodbye to Phil yesterday I realised that we'll be seeing each other several times over the holidays; including a trip to see Avenue Q (imagine how excited I am and then multiply it by a million), both of our birthdays and Reading Festival. In fact, I'm seeing a lot of people at Reading Festival. During the more boring weeks spent at home in front of the TV, at the gym or possibly working, just the thought of all t
hese things will be keeping me going.
It's so strange to think that a year ago, I didn't know any of these people. And now I'm living within walking distance of them all, spending every day with them and planning visits and meet ups over the summer. I can't imagine not knowing them.

The last thing I seem to mention when talking about university is my course. Y'know, what I'm meant to be here for. I've spent the year studying Drama and Creative Writing, and I've loved it. At times it's been challenging, but always rewarding. I've also surprised myself in that I've loved the Creative Writing side of the course more than the Drama of it... My first year studying this course has helped me decide, finally, what I want to be when I grow up: I want to be a writer.

So here I am, sitting at my desk in my little room, blasting Foo Fighters out of my speakers in the window for the benefit of my flatmates playing football in the sun, about to get ready for my last night at the SU as a Fresher. Not even considered packing yet. Eyeing up my bottle of Malibu on my window sill. Looking at my wall of photos, beautiful memories of this crazy year. I feel like I should run down West Downs Main Street shouting "thanks everyone!" But I won't. I'm emotional, but not an idiot. So I'll just say goodbye, thank you and... Until next year.

The songs I've added into this post are the ones that I have grown to associate with my first year at uni. All happy, of course.


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