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Sunday, 30 December 2012

#72: Two Degrees of Separation — Part Five

When I reflect on spending eight-to-nine months at the slanted terraced house in Etruria, I marvel at the capacity of ourselves, as students, to live in virtual squalor.

Having the front room as my bedroom was fine on the face of it. However, the front door had a descending two-inch gap at its foot – meaning that, in the winter, the cold streamed in like a cluster of Harry Potter Dementors.

It was FREEZING at times. We had portable gas heaters for our rooms, but I trusted mine about as far as I could throw it. Weighing in at around 300lbs, this wasn't very far.

So I kept warm the traditional way; the way students have since the dawn of college education. I wore all 27 of the upper-body layers I owned at the same time – switching the order round now-&-again to keep things fresh.

I frequently had guests to stay. Though never invited ones. They just used to turn up unannounced, letting themselves in through the gaping gap in the door.

Slugs were quite prominent. The carpet temperature – ie. 30 degrees below zero – was a perfect slithering environment for them. I laid down some ground-rules, though. Like stay on the ground: my bed's out-of-bounds. And, to be fair, they did abide by that rule. Most of the time.

There were also wood lice, hundreds of those. Attracted by the traditional student digs furniture. Rotting pieces of various tree flesh that squeaked and rocked and looked like they’d collapse in a cloud of dust if forced to bear the weight of a jumbo-sized English-French dictionary (I kept that on ground level while I tried to find it a new home).

Centipedes, millipedes, all kinds of pedes made themselves at home. The odd spider, too, though they tended to hang out by the gas heater, on the occasions I decided not developing frostbite was more important than potentially blowing myself up.

The insects and creepy crawlies generally came to stay at weekends, and spent most of the time doing laps of the room. The millipedes invariably set the pace – aided by having 36 to 400 legs, depending on their particular species.

It meant I always had company in my room; though not quite the kind I’d dreamt about. For some reason, members of the fairer sex gave my chamber a wide berth.

Jon was the second West-Midlander I’d shared a living space with. Our First Year flat housed five – and I initially shared with a guy called Craig from Dudley who I nicknamed Ted Bundy. Not because he was a serial killer, but because he appeared to have great potential in that field. I always slept with one eye open and a 7-iron by my pillow.

Trying to have a conversation with Jon on his own was hard work. He and Mark were tight, and felt most comfortable when both in the same room. Jon looked like a young version of Billy Connolly. Shoulder-length wavy brown hair that bounced to the rhythm of his limp – and a Malcolm X chinny-beard.

If I caught him alone, I’d try to initiate some light banter. However, he’d limit his responses to a few words, shiftily looking left and right, before increasing the speed of his gait through the lounge and up the stairs to his room – directly above mine.

Having his room directly above mine became an issue later in the year – when Jon got a girlfriend. She wasn’t my cup of tea. Having a moustache bushier than Tom Selleck’s in his Magnum P.I. prime was a little off-putting.

But whatever floats your boat. When they kissed there must have been tangible electricity. Like, actual sparks flying with all that tangling stubble-hair. And, I’m sure, the potential for triggering a minor bush-fire.

Anyhow, when they first decided to head to Funky Town and engage in a little ‘horizontal horseplay’ I got an earful; being as the sound-proofing system between my ceiling and Jon’s floor needed a little work. So one actually existed.

I only endured that once, though. The Level 50 pneumatic-drill proof reinforced earplugs I blew half my Second Year food budget on saw me right after that.

Overall, though, the digs were endurable. I developed a thick skin to endure the daily walks through the lounge to the kitchen or bathroom, zombie-walking my way through the cyclone of tobacco smoke that regularly had to be negotiated.

It was pointless having a shower, unless I dashed out the back door and round to the front of the house (hopefully remembering the key) to avoid smelling the same as when I entered.

But I survived and lived to tell the tale.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for my academic ambitions.

In Year Two, we had to focus in on two of the four First Year subjects – and I opted for English Literature and Sociology. The tank-sized English-French dictionary finally had to be U-Hauled to a new home.

We had six courses – three in each – and I was interested in… none of the six, really. My heart was set on trying to make it as a golfer – and much of my time was spent either taking lessons in Newcastle-under-Lyme (not to be confused with its sister town: Newcastle-over-Lemon) or practicing my wedge-play on a nearby strip of park.

As a result, my academic work was seriously neglected – and by the time the crucial end-of-year exams arrived, I was going to need a minor miracle to make it through to Year Three.


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