Having been somewhat inspired to return to my laptop and write something for the first time in a while, I was a little bit perturbed to see that the BBC Magazine had also decided to write about the experience of going to University. However, given that I could give people the choice of reading something good or something poor, I've decided to tackle the same topic and highlight how good the BBC Magazine section usually is.
I still remember the day I left home for Uni. Sunday 26 September 1993. I remember it the way I remember most dates, by the sports events that took place that day (Palace drew 0-0 away to Charlton that day, a game shown live on ITV, and America won the Ryder Cup at the Belfry too).
More than anything else I should remember it for my Mum's mood all the way up in the car. Or rather her lack of mood, carrying out the classic parental move of talking about a child as if they were not there. She wasn't happy that we had to make a stop to get passport photos for all the cards I would need. My lack of preparation in general wasn't going down well, and as the months wore by I suffered for my lack of preparation on the day itself. The photos were horrible and I had to live with them on just about everything.
Of course once you are actually on campus all you really want is for your parents to disappear. Funny that, isn't it? I can see it totally from the other angle now. In your early years you depend on your parents for everything, and when you get older they become trusted friends who you hope will be around for as long as you are. And yet somehow there's that teens-to-early twenties period of your life where you do everything short of actually pulling a Kevin the Teenager and moan, "You're so embarrassing!" (Mum, please count this as an apology, thanks.)
When your parents do go you have a pretty big realization. All of a sudden you're alone, in a strange place, with no-one you know (well, if you don't count the girl I went to the same school and college as, and knew by name and that was it). Sooner or later, I would have to talk to someone else. Thankfully someone came to talk to me first. Sadly at this point my memory lets me down, as I can't remember what it was he wanted, but he was friendly, and his name was Sujal. Little guy, but very friendly. Probably just as friendly now, but over the years sadly we lost touch.
With one down it soon became a deluge. Just about everyone from Eng-, er, the UK (none of my Uni friends would let me forget the Welsh, so I might as well do it myself) set out on a night out together. Over the course of the next two weeks the floor and the floor above us did seemed to spend just about every night together, usually in the pub. The early birthdays of the academic year were spent in great numbers, and I remember thinking how good my birthday was going to be, not realising how much the group would splinter before Christmas, let alone late-April.
So while those close first months were all-too-brief, they were good (especially if you were the 4 Non Blondes record label), and as a life experience they certainly helped me. Given no choice but to adapt I had to learn how to put a wash on (frighteningly easy, although I didn't learn to double-check for pens in pockets until five years later) and how to cook. Yes, I can cook. Well, somewhat anyway. Letís just say I'm indebted to my friends Nick and Pat, or indeed their Mum, for introducing me to the Ginsters range of products in March 1994. Some items of that ilk remain in my diet to this day for their combination of being easy to cook and enjoyable to consume.
Not that everything went so well. Urged by my Mum to upon a student bank account I did so, and then proceeded to have a ten week stand-off about where my PIN had been sent to. Thankfully it was before the days of chip-and-pin, so I could at least get cashback with the card every time I went shopping every Monday. So I learnt some financial discipline, and how not to complain (which has come in handy over the years, so it worked out well in the end).
Amid lectures, seminars, games of Sensible Soccer, watching sport in the middle of the day, seeing what Tequila could do to someone and becoming a fan of the humble kebab I kept a few meaningful memories, and one very good friend. On that first night I'd worried about meeting Chris, at first a bit quiet and reserved and, worst of all, a Manchester United fan. But in time I came to know a funny, warm, loyal and utterly decent guy who was unquestionably my best friend at University. And I could get past the United support when he showed himself to be 1) someone who went to games, and 2) someone who could look past his own loyalties and still dissect games based on what was happening. Chris was a passionate fan, but never blindly loyal.
In the sixteen years since he's been the one person I've still shared e-mails, phone calls and the experience of fatherhood with. Life lessons may be one thing, but a friend for life is the one thing I'll always be thankful to Middlesex University for.
Have a good week!