Freshers’ week: Oh those crazy shenanigans we all had, trailblazing our way through never-before discovered territory: blue body paint, £1 snake bites, attending lectures feeling seven shades of vom, not attending lectures because you feel seven shades of vom and awkwardly getting off with someone who’ll inevitably cause you to spend the rest of the year developing an overwhelming interest in tarmac whenever they walk past. That’s right, Fresh-warrior. Blaze that trail. So, bearing all of this in mind, I think we can safely predict the five words on every new student’s lips.
Societally dictated arbitrarily enforced fun.
Is that…not what you were going to say?
Freshers’ week is one of those weird social phenomena that makes me feel we all need to be wired up to rubber skull caps, with trailing tentacle wires, and sat in glass cases, and studied. Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not dissing. For the people who enjoy it, it’s awesome and revelrous and liberating. But its pressure-cooker environment of expectations and ‘shoulds’ makes the people who don’t feel that they a) are doing something wrong and b) are already doomed to lose at university, and life. And it gave me a kind of out-of-body existential crisis, as I floated up out of my neon legwarmers and watched myself perform for a week.
My mixed feelings came partly because I did it twice. My second freshers’ week came equipped with the heavy-hearted awareness that these friendships, camaraderies and nights out were somehow false: they desperately tried to mimic something that, at that moment, we all distinctly lacked—the company of people who actually knew and liked us.
To clarify, and maybe persuade you that I’m not a totally maudlin old git, this awareness seemed all the more pressing to me for the fact that, the previous year I had gone on to make some true, and brilliant friends. But these friendships were forged over the weeks and months of shared experience, and of narrating ourselves to each other through countless anecdotes over countless bottles of £2.50 Soave from the late-night corner shop. (shout out to the Ten O’clock Shop, with your quirkily misleading 11 o’clock closing time, you cheeky minx). These rituals of relationship-building couldn’t be compressed into the mythically pre-ordained dance of a week in a onesie.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a week in a onesie, don’t get me wrong. There’s nary a thing wrong with a good onesie. Indeed, it now seems like blasphemy against the god of Freshers’ to make it all the way there, and not get out and plant your dignity flag as a sad souvenir you’ll never be able to reclaim. Preferably in the nearest four quid entry sweatbox with a coat check: for me, it was Bristol first-year favourite, Bunker…oh how I’ve missed your sticky floors and confusing double toilet. Because you don’t want to be the one left behind in the Columbia with the command gear and the dehydrated space nuts. No one wants to be Michael Collins (and if that extended metaphor didn’t get you off, then I really have nothing to offer you.)
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these social rituals, not at all, but with the significance they’re given- for some the weight of expectation can be crushing. And, as someone with a mild allergy to the word ‘should’, the idea of seven days of organised fun, during which we mutually have the best week of all our lives, and make the friends we’ll have for the rest of our lives, makes me raise an eyebrow. Just an nb- if you don’t enjoy freshers’, it’s chill- you’ll probably still go on to live a totally functioning and normal life, complete with its fair share of successful nights out that end in cheesy chips and blackouts.
I personally had exactly seven formative experiences in my fresher’s year, none of which happened in the first week. One of them’s too dirty to talk about. Three of them involved crying uncontrollably into my dubstep-hangover camomile tea. One of them was a spiritual epiphany and one was heavily based around salted caramel brownies (note to skint students- DO spend your last pennies on artisan baked goods, so that you can’t afford to do laundry. You won’t regret it and, contrary to popular belief, that musk is both edgy and alluring.) But the most important thing I learnt ―and learning at university, I think, seems appropriate― is that blasphemy might be a good thing. That is, if it means challenging norms and questioning the ‘should’ brigade.
Much as the spontaneous nights that involve throwing a random amount of make up at your face and necking a red bull in the cab are inevitably better than New Year’s Eve, your best experiences may well not fall in a pre-ordained week. Shock horror, they may not fall in university at all. And that’s ok. And if they do, and your first night, dressed as a smurf and drunkenly hugging people who probably wouldn’t save you from a burning building, happens to be the best night of your life, that’s ok too. It seems like a grim prospect to me, but there’s really no accounting for taste; some people like clubbing with strangers, some people like keeping their wife and children in a concrete bunker under their house. And look, we’re right back to Bunker.
Give or take a few inappropriate Fritzl references, the general summary of what I’m trying to say is mostly peace and love. Make friends with people you actually like- proximity is no guarantee of a kindred spirit, so if your well-timed abortion gag is met with silence, run for the hills. Do things you enjoy- when the rest of the known world is going to Oceana, follow that man with dreads who recommended you a reggae night in Stokes Croft, and Jah guide you. Know that, like a fine wine or an adorable infant, real friendships take time to mature. And if anyone tells you that freshers’ week, or year, or university, or any randomly assigned experience that they happened to enjoy should also be the *best* part of your life, SHOOT THEM, shoot them in the face. No, really, I mean it, those people are who AK47s were designed for.