For most people, university is a new lease of life. An escape from the clutches of tyranical parents, a chance to do whatever they like, when they like, the only price being a little work here and there to keep their seminar tutors happy and their parents satisfied their children will come out of it apparently more employable because they learned about Shakespeare for three years.
Some people love university, and when they look back on it with a mounting mortgage and beer gut in their forties, describe it as ‘the best days of my life, bar none’. Others don’t like it at all, because they don’t like being away from home (I’ve yet to find someone with another reason other than that). And then there’s me.
As you may know, my twenty years of life have been taken up with a variety of things in a number of different places. I’ve worked as a session musician, a barman, a soldier, a writer, a professional boxer and instructor to an Olympic team (and briefly as a beggar. A jug of complimentary cocktail in Plymouth convinced my brother and I brother it was a good idea). As well as my native Britain I’ve lived in France and here in Georgia, as well as having travelled all over Western and Eastern Europe, the United States, Canada, Egypt, Mexico, Turkey and Japan. I’m already married and have a cracking group of friends from all over the world I wouldn’t change for anything.
What, then, could university offer me?
I was raised in a liberal household. Ever since I was fourteen, my parents were fine with me bringing girls home, fully aware we would be having sex. They let me drink at home and subtly bought beer for me in pubs until I could pass off as old enough to do so myself when I reached fifteen. I’d been enjoying the two most appealing staples of university life for six years before I began to attend.
I lived with my girlfriend in Georgia from 2010 until last September when it was time for me to leave my adopted homeland and attend Keele University. Over the course of those eleven months, I’d befriended or drank with soldiers, gamblers, mercenaries, eccentric expatriates, politicians, travellers, teachers, boxers, rugby players, humanitarians, journalists, archaeologists and (a real) political observer from the CIA. My friends came from all over the world, not just Georgia itself; Americans, Russians, Ukrainians, Estonians, Azeris, Armenians and Germans all numbered amongst the people I met.
Within a week of being at Keele I felt like a fifty year old man. The girls and boys tittered and giggled around each other as they contemplated going out or buying alcohol without the disapproving look of protective parents.
I’m afraid to say I found them all so boring. The stories were all the same. If they’d had a gap year, they had either worked in M&S or gone to somewhere where they stood in front of a mountain wearing a backpack. If they hadn’t, it was even worse.
I remember one girl, Amanda, in particular, whose room was opposite mine. She came from one of the most appalling households I’ve heard of. Her father was a man who wouldn’t eat pizza or pasta because it was ‘foreign’, and wouldn’t board a plane because it was ‘dangerous’. Amanda had been abroad just once in her life to Germany, that very year. Due to her father’s hatred, fear and distrust of aviation (which I could understand if the Waffen SS were blazing away with their flak cannons, but someone should really tell this chap that it was an awfully long time ago) they’d driven from Norwich to Frankfurt and stayed for a meagre two days, but Amanda decided that that was enough for her, she wanted to live there.
Since Keele is situated so close to Manchester airport and a plane to Munich costs roughly thirty pounds, I suggested Amanda should go for a weekend. Most of my German friends live in that city or in nearby Stuttgart, and when I asked they told me they’d be more than happy to show Amanda around and find her somewhere to stay. When I put this to her, she told me ‘I can’t.’
‘Why not?’ I asked. ‘Is it money? Don’t worry, I can give you thirty quid, that’s nothing.’
‘No, I have the money. I just can’t.’
‘Ah, no passport, is it? Well, not to worry, I’m sure your parents can mail it to you.’
‘I have my passport here. I just can’t.’
I was now thoroughly confused, so asked her to explain.
‘My parents wouldn’t let me,’ she said, ‘going to a foreign place on my own? They’d never let me do that!’
Since my first solo foray abroad had been when I was fifteen to Toronto, I didn’t quite understand the problem. At nineteen, Amanda had already been an adult for a year, and was legally entitled to do whatever the hell she wanted. But when prompted further, she wouldn’t budge, and instead made plans to visit Berlin in the summer with her mum.
She wasn’t enjoying university at all, and said she wanted to quit over several months. Initially, I felt sorry for her; she was clearly a shy creature, after all, but after a while my patience waned. Over two months I felt she should either shut up or put up, especially as I reminded myself that Natia, my partner, had never had the chance for a real education in war-torn Georgia and would have jumped at the chance to go to university. She’s incredibly intelligent, confident and fluent in four languages (with a reasonable command of two others), but because she didn’t spend three years at a university drinking and fornicating (or sitting quietly in her room) her way to a qualifcation, she will never be as employable as British students. The injustice rankles me.
There seems to be two types of student, and Amanda was very much the archetype of one; the kind that sits in their room, panicking over an essay plan that’s not due in for a month and believes themselves to have ‘so much work to do’. The other is the one that sleeps during the day, only to crawl out a night to go to another Student Union event with a name like ‘Carnage’ or ‘Slaughter’ (they might as well call it ‘Ethnic Cleansing’). Or, if they’re really adventurous, they’ll go to a local nightclub and take pictures of each other pointing in different directions with their mouths open.
The fact is, university didn’t have any place for someone like me. I love reading books in the peace and quiet, but I also like a drink as much as the next man, but in a nice pub or five star hotel (as is my custom in Georgia) rather than a nightclub where I can’t hear myself think because the music is so loud my ears are bleeding.
Come to think of it, I wonder really how much anyone enjoys those things. I wish I had a penny for everytime a student had whispered ‘Truth to tell, I don’t really like clubbing, I just go because everyone else does…’. What happened to moral fibre and uniqueness? It seems that student society these days is all about being a part of the herd.
With regards to things like these, I suppose my disappointment has its roots from the end of my school days, where I was splitting my time between the Army and finishing my A Levels. Being around veterans of Afghanistan one minute and schoolchildren the next wasn’t easy, but my parents reassured me by saying ‘don’t worry, at university it’s different. They’re adults there’. Were they bollocks.
I found the fashions distinctly amusing. The collective population of Keele seemed to have more camouflaged equipment than the entirety of the British Army. I remember one chap, walking around wearing issue Army boots, trousers and a leather jacket, wearing a cowboy hat with a beard down to his groin. Then there were the skinny jeans club, who wore suspenders but only to dangle them by their legs. Adults my arse.
I was also surprised at the musicians there, particularly the practitioners of heavy metal. Deadly serious chaps, they were, screaming at the top of their voices into microphones, having ‘band meetings’ and talking about ‘when they make it’. I was the same once, at 13. I genuinely couldn’t believe people in their 20s were like that.
Foreign students were another thing that irked me, and no, not because I’m xenophobic, but because so many couldn’t speak English. That’s not true of the Estonians, Russians and Germans I met, but it was overwhelmingly the case for the Chinese. I should be careful of what I say here, I suppose, since the slightest criticism against other races these days (no matter how true) makes you a racist right-wing lunatic. Am I saying I hate all Chinese people? Of course I’m fucking not, and I’m sorry to put it so bluntly but there are a lot of people on this website who can’t understand anything but the obvious. What rankles me so much about them is that they had virtually no command of the English language and couldn’t have cared less about learning it, their work all being done and graded in Chinese. Natia, however, speaking English at a native standard, won’t even be allowed a holiday visa to the United Kingdom.
I could write another ten pages on this, but I really can’t be bothered. I think that was enough, don’t you?
End of broadcast….