The Lonely Smoker: Nostalgia (and bird droppings)

‘Although you might feel like the most miserable sod in the world for much of the time, university is – honestly – one hell of a lucky experience.’


Smoking on the day I finished, I got shat on. And I mean that literally, not figuratively.

I was the unwilling recipient of a present from one of York’s grubbier feathered inhabitants, (probably a pigeon: those bastards have always had it in for me) who kindly deposited a giant, gooey, green(-ish) missive. Wonderful creature.

Sitting there, my arm covered in shit, shellshocked from the combination of falling faecal-matter and the conclusion of my exams, I couldn’t help wonder if this was the perfect culmination of three years study at York.

University is touted (usually by aged relatives who’ve never been to university, or family friends who ingested so many illegal substances whilst there they don’t actually remember it) as “the best time of your life.” This has always struck me as a hopefully disingenuous statement, after all, if the best times of our lives consist of consuming litres of cut-price Aldi spirits; vomitting and shagging your way through an extended friendship group; or justifying plagiarism by saying “It’s only second-year”; surely the only way is up.

But coming to the end of your degree does engender a spirit of reminiscence, a sort of fond affection for the mould building in your kitchen, and a bizarre attachment towards your dissertation notebooks. Fortunately, I’m able to inform you, any attachment to your work is quickly dissipated by a firm underarm lob into the nearest body of water. The mould and tendency to reminisce are slightly harder ones to blot out.

After all, it is only at university that you get to dress up as Golden Age Batman and Robin, charge round a club full of ‘normally dressed’ people, and pretend they were the ones with the wrong dress-code. Only with university friends will you have memories based almost exclusively around club-lit embraces and shared cigarettes in the chilly Yorkshire wind. Only at York are there more media societies than colleges for you to complain about, more vociferous feminists than vacuous footballers, a student population with a profound peccadillo for all fowl-related matters, and a union headed by the angriest ‘mate’ outside Liverpool (excluding John Prescott).

Going to university is a bit like the first time you have sex. It’s a messy, on occasion unbelievably awkward, process that many go through, and which you’ll only do once in your life. There’s no right way to go about it – aside from perhaps a desire to avoid an unintended pregnancy – and as Miley Cyrus sings, it isn’t about what’s waiting for us on the other side (for us unemployment, and for her some serious rehab time) but it’s all about the climb.

First times among my friends range from in a tent (uncomfortable, and had to queue for a shower afterwards) to a somewhat hazardous Russian affair (smashed glasses and vodka were unsurprisingly involved), to snatched in the back of a summer barbecue (hotdogs were not originally on the menu). Despite the various awkward, disastrous outcomes to each of the above mentioned events (I should probably add the barbecue one was a family event) they all make for the funniest stories.

(On this note, I’ve been strongly advised by my lawyer to my credit my housemates. A couple are now threatening legal action for defamation of character over the past few months, so as a measure of reconciliation and trust, I’ve been counselled to dedicate the following column to them. The ungrateful bastards.)

In twenty years we won’t – I really hope – remember the essays we flopped, nor the times we failed to make it out, but we will remember the times (well, ish) when thanks to a night’s heavy drinking with friends someone was sick in the bin during a seminar (I wish I could say I made that up). Or when your housemates fill your room with balloons for your birthday, or when they “acquire” a leather armchair on the way home.

Like the bird that crapped on me whilst I enjoyed a celebratory smoke, take careful aim with your university experience. Because, like shit falling from the sky and the first time you have sex, it only happens to you once, and although you might feel like the most miserable sod in the world for much of the time, it is – honestly – one hell of a lucky experience.

One comment

  1. Thank you for the amazing columns, always loved them. Funny and very true.

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