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The Meaning Of Life From A Student Point Of View
University! Now there is an institution! I have always said that if anyone could model a society based on university values, they could count on me. This would mean that the vast majority of the population wouldn’t have to work very hard, wouldn’t be paid much, but would be fed regularly and allowed to spend half their time in bars buying as much beer as they could drink in a night. Cannabis and other hallucinogenic drugs will be legal and freely available as adjuncts to the more creatively inclined, while the idea of any rigid moral standards will be abandoned in favor of “a little of what you like goes a long way!” And if something happens that threatens this idyll of perfection, these fellow citizens, guardians of the world’s knowledge, have every right to raise banners and march in protest. The national anthem should have been something from Motorhead.
What am I saying here? I guess I prefer a more romantic view of life, more “raised by love” than “driven by greed”. There are major differences between the two: one fills our hearts with warmth and security, the other is dangerous and all-consuming, although no two people can agree which is which. For my part, I couldn’t believe my luck. The first day at Badock Hall was like Nirvana, a spiritual existence of pure ecstasy. Of the four hundred students, more than half were single women. It was the perfect opportunity for a little greedy love.
I was so happy I couldn’t help but laugh as I unpacked my suitcases in one of the four hundred one-room units I had been allocated, overlooking sloping open green gardens and fertile trees. The room was tiny, just big enough to fit a single bed and a desk, but it was all I needed. I laughed because I had a car. There she was, standing in the parking lot, waiting for my slightly-remembered but proud maroon Marina with a polished vinyl back seat.
Unlike school, Bristol didn’t feel like being in the wrong time zone. Everything, in fact, was modern, liberal and fair. The attitude of the teachers surprised us after the close attention we received at school, because they hardly paid any attention to us. They had their say, in lectures and lessons, maybe two or three times a week, then they left us. It was up to us.
The morning after the launch party, I stayed in bed until twelve, then panicked when I realized I’d missed the lecture. But then I remembered that it wasn’t Trollope. Nothing happened here, no one noticed when you were gone, so I went back to sleep. It was very fair. We were given access to the best education, the best brains, and it was up to us to use it to our advantage or not.
Fresher’s Week was an opportunity to meet veteran students and join the various clubs and societies they’d dreamed of in a moment of idleness, an amazing array of activities and a time-consuming hustle and bustle that I don’t think was even equal to ten minutes with Stripper Rita, and so far did not end, we could not engage in more serious work of study. Between lectures and lessons, which totaled about twelve hours a week, our time was our own, which sounded great, but the importance of self-discipline soon became apparent.
Most lunchtimes I was in the giant refectory where you could get a decent meal for less than a pound. It was next to the Wills Memorial Building, the centerpiece of the university, a large cathedral-like neo-Gothic structure at the top of Park Street built by the wealthy Wills family, tobacco magnates, at the turn of the century. century. Students were running up and down the massive staircase in the lobby all day going to and from lectures, but despite the crowds I was often alone in the early days as everyone was lecturing at different times and in different buildings around city.
Early on, I ran into my brother Mario and a few of his friends from law school. He studied in the third year and was about to graduate. It was obvious that he felt superior to me for the first time in his life. Oxford had slipped through my fingers and I was a dull newcomer to his old university. He agreed with me, skipping the odd comment, but it was clear that he had no intention of including me in his circle, which pleased me. I wanted the freedom to explore and was happy that my older brother and his friends weren’t breathing down my neck.
The car made me popular very quickly. At the end of each day, four or five long-haired bums casually shuffled around the parking lot hoping to find an elevator. I don’t mind because it was good company. After a while I started taking tenp each way so my first beer every night was paid for.
The best time to meet was in the early evening at the bar, right after dinner. The Badock Hall bar had a pool table, billiards, darts and an endless supply of cheap beer. Most nights, we sat with our feet up on the low round tables and waited for something to happen. There was always music playing in the background, the Police or the Pretenders or Blondie, the artists who were making waves at the time, and soon a small group formed around me. At first there were two or three of us, then when it seemed like we were having a good time, others would join. Sometimes it was not uncommon for each of the fifteen or twenty idle mops to sit around in a large circle. contributing his semi-articulated input to whatever relevant and vital discussion was taking place.
We thought it was our responsibility to change the world and make it a better place. That was the message we inherited from the 60s, that students can make a difference. But we always had one thing that got in the way. One night, Jerry, a biochemist from Northern Ireland with an explosive orange Art Garfunkel haircut, put it succinctly in neurological terms: “It’s more of a biochemical function,” he said in his endearing Belfast voice, and a few more people stopped to listen. . “There’s something more to it. As parts of the body are stimulated, signals are sent through metabolic processes to the reticular formation in the brainstem, and it is activated, which is why you get a sense of pleasure. At times, this process leads to a lack of oxygen and excessive blood pumping. around the body, which makes you hot and bothered during sex. It’s all about the hypothalamus, you know. Like many things in our bodies, it has its own memory and is therefore habit-forming, so it’s easy to become addicted to sex.”
Short shouts were heard in the last part. We were already members of this club. I was impressed with Jerry’s neuroscience skills, but decided to keep him away from me the next time I tried to pull.
Someone once introduced me to a Greek Cypriot who thought he was doing me a favor, but I found him too scrupulous, too reserved, a future bank manager if I ever saw one, and after a meeting or two I made it my best to avoid him. Instead, I spent more and more time with a tall, curly-haired weirdo from London, from the East End. He looked like he’d been to a few Millwall games and came out on top. His name was Chuka, six foot four when he was an inch, with arms like an orangutan’s, long and drooping, which casually made great air arcs as he walked. He always had twinkling eyes and a joint dangling from the side of his smiling mouth. By the middle of his second semester, he had met and fallen in love with a dwarfish blonde girl with a pretty face named Linda, who was always wearing sexy leather or denim like Susie Quatro. Like Chuka, she was straightforward and lacked looks and grace, and they were an interesting couple. With the height difference between them there was about two feet of empty air, but that didn’t stop them from being glued to their lips forever, he doubled over her and she stood on her tiptoes like a couple of kids in love at school.
Our social life was a strange mixture of sitting and trying to seem intelligent on the one hand and acting like brutes on the other, two conflicting impulses that governed our behavior. Some people fell more on the one side than the other, like my neighbor Sheridan, who was a pure geek, and never seemed to leave his room, but spent all his time in study centered on the marriage practice of the little scumbag, or some such inanity, listening to innocuous tunes by Steely Dan, while others didn’t learn a single drop in their entire first semester, instead devoting their energy to learning the limits of their party stamina.
I steered the middle path, drawn to people who sought the best of both worlds. I met people who refused to be chosen or typed, real life characters. I’ll never forget the people I worked with at university: Chuka (who was actually Charles) got his nickname from the tomes he threw up after a good night’s sleep, but was planning to pass his first chemistry exam; Gerry, a brilliant biologist who in a future life saw himself handcuffed to a wire in Greenham Common protesting against nuclear weapons, or buried in a bog in the path of oncoming bulldozers to stop the construction of a flyover; and little Linda, whose beautiful, petite backside made us all think as she played air guitar to rock anthems, but one day she was going to be a researcher in a cancer ward and do great work for children. These were unpredictable people with a decent future.
We could talk about anything without fear of criticism and attacks. This seemed to me a fair and constructive way of organizing things, so that people of the same age and with the same interests could be encouraged to live together and have a common dialogue, regardless of religious or political boundaries and without fear of persecution. It had similarities with the ancient Greek symposia, which produced intellectual fruit in fifth-century Athens. The fact that it was funded by the state made it noble.
Despite our strong aspirations, small talk in the first few weeks focused on what courses everyone was taking, what societies everyone was in, and the amount of work everyone was doing, which varied from department to department—in other words, typical student trifles that soon got boring and some of us were kicked out of the hostel and into the city altogether to mix with the civilians.
In the city, we drank amongst friendly Bristolians, hard-working people who weren’t trying to fix the world, just doing menial jobs for minimum wage, watching football at weekends and getting angry at night. In the future, when my life becomes more complex, I will think of that simple commitment typical of a thousand English towns, a million areas of Great Britain, and see it as an ideal lifestyle. But I worried that I would never fit in, never be normal. Being flashy was a curse, and many students felt it, drawn to the complex, the intangible, the mysterious and the unanswerable. I’ve always been like that. I still have a piece of paper written when I was about ten years old, when I wrote: “What must be done before we grow old: (A) find out if there is a God, (B) find out what happens after we die. (C) to learn the meaning of life.” What were the chances of having a good time on the road with such luggage?
In order to survive, all the bars organized cheap student nights during the week with wild themes, noisy events that only delinquents and lecherous people were able to attend.
One such occasion, and the most important, was the Vicars’ and Cakes Ball. The great thing about Badock Hall was that we got to see all the girls at their best before we went out, so we could plan our strategy for the girls in advance. They loved any excuse to get into their nets and flaunt it in front of us at the bar. And some boys were even more imaginative than girls. We piled into the cab looking like a cast Rocky Horror Show the first big gay musical. Every time we came to the city center, it felt like we owned it.
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