“I’ll just keep winging it – like I have since I got here” said the young creative writing ‘major’ as he tried to find the Julian Study Centre for his first lecture on Mediaeval history. He had come all the way from university in Kansas – though he had been born in Florida. Given his air of bewilderment, and as Dorothy would have said if she’d landed in the UEA campus instead of Oz “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”. For a student from Malaysia being in Norwich is apparently like somewhere with the “air-conditioning on outside all the time” (early days).
Rather unexpectedly I find myself back at university – watching Freshers’ week unfold, though not as a real participant this time. I’ve seen the pre-loved pots and pans sale in the Union (which struck me as an excellent idea – though so many of the items looked pristine I suspect they had never been used). The houseplant sale was colourful and, judging by the overheard snippets of conversation, a great chance to understand folk in a new light. The gentle 6ft 5” giant explaining, with relish, “that plant sucks the guts out of flies while you watch” may have been revealing more about himself that he realised.
Wandering through the stands at the Societies Fair I was struck at what hasn’t changed from the early 1980’s. All the political parties were still there, dressed in stereotype (including the Marxists). There were probably more environmentally aware societies – and I don’t remember a Fetish Society at Aberdeen. Games are still popular with new options like Minecraft and Quidditch – but not bridge. Sadly there was no evidence of an equivalent to the infamous Kite Club.
I’m studying computing – and one feature of my age is that, back in the 1980’s there weren’t any laptops – or computers generally that I remember. We used fiche to find things in the library. As the lecturer started a module with a brief history of the development of the internet and the Web, I had a strong sense of being like a dinosaur sitting in on a session about the ice age.
The economics of study are not the same. How lucky my generation was to have had our tertiary education paid for by the state. Paying fees, however, doesn’t mean you automatically get a degree. As the fabulous Spanish course director pointed out “Just because you pay to join a gym doesn’t mean you gonna get a beautiful body – you still have to apply yourself, prepare yourself and participate… see, that’s an APP” (!)
The smell has changed too. The Union bar used to be a solid nimbus of smoke, hiding those in the gloomy corners completely. Cigarettes burned in saucers; the ritual shake of a beer can to check if someone had put a butt in it before your drank; the rank, stale, stink left by yesterday’s ashtray – those days are gone.
I’m a bit nervous about my new adventure and as the young American and I found the Julian Centre I hung on to her confident words from the 14th century “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”