Tab Rates vs. Tab Slates: Freshers’ Week
The social barometer that is Tab Rates vs. Tab Slates returns.
College Children. Eschew tired jokes about incest. Your daughter is disappointingly average in appearance and terminally dull, and it’d take a lot more alcohol than you can afford to get your hands on prior to the deposit of your student loan to make her appear otherwise. The best thing about having college children is getting to act like a big shot in front of a couple of eighteen year-olds fresh from a ‘coming-of-age’ (or maybe just ‘coming’) trip to Shagaluf who left their local grammar school with the mystifying conviction that your UMS scores still count for something now that you’ve got to university and aren’t a vehicle through which your school hopes to secure increased local funding. Cambridge is a gradual process of ego annihilation, leaving you to mop up the tattered remains of self-worth as you enter the bleak graduate market. For a few weeks at the beginning of Michaelmas, you can pretend to be the best thing in town. Nothing wrong with a bit of gentle hazing.
Freedom. Forgive me. Perhaps my own caustic pseudo-parental approach is symptomatic of entrenched resentment for my own, real parental unit. And it has to be said, perfectly palatable in limited doses though they are, you were glad to get away from home when you did. The passive-aggressive war of attrition has been won and you have retreated. Father no longer passed the ketchup upon demand, preferring instead to affect a studied deafness to your pleas for condiments. You were beginning to suspect that your little brother’s repeated urination on the toilet seat was not indicative of poor cock-eye co-ordination, but a furtive tactic to make you use the cold, smelly downstairs loo colonised by Daddy Long Legs circa 1998 and whom you suspect to be in cahoots with your sibling Führer. My mother Facebook raped me; not to declare a new sexual preference or perversion, but writing, “It’s Phoebe’s mummy here! She doesn’t know I’m on Facebook and will be very cross if she does!”, followed by a kind of deviant smiley in which she forgot to construct eyes out of a colon, remembered the hyphen nose and typed a ‘d’ tongue rather than the conventional ‘p’. Her emoticon was blind and had swallowed its own tongue; I still wept over my laptop when I realised this had been sitting on my profile for ten minutes before I retracted her statement. All because I spilt water on The Times crossword. Suppress any flicker of homesickness with memories of this passive-aggressive war of attrition.
Regional accents. Although anyone with a particularly regional accent will have it expunged by a process of slow taunting until they have realised Received Pronunciation, instead of thinking of this as ritualised snobbery I prefer to think that the presumed snobs are actually just terrified that there is a conversation taking place in which they cannot partake. Listening to a man with a particularly broad Kentish accent discussing his upcoming nuptials, it took me, now an adopted resident of Kent via way of Glasgow (imagine the ruling orators’ struggle with that confused regional mêlée) most of the journey from London to Rochester to work out what, “Ginny’s sin the hole,” meant. I worried it was some kind of sinister Kentish sexual perversion or cult in which I, by dint of the seat I had selected, was going to be implicated; after a deliberation aided greatly by context I realised he meant, ‘Ginny [fiancée] has [already] seen the hall [where the reception will be held].’ But think of the opportunities for clandestine conference! It would be like that summer when you and your brother perfected Pig Latin to the extent that you entirely alienated your parents! Admittedly, it might also create a caste hierarchy, causing Mancunians only to befriend other Mancunians, etcetera. But still: the fear of the Received Pronunciation lot! A whole subculture from which they are excluded! Rise up, regionals!
Accommodation. If you’ve suddenly, slightly shockingly, found yourself a Finalist, chances are you’re sitting in the best accommodation you’ve had for the two years. Which might not be saying much – there’s still blue-tack marks everywhere and a funny fug that hangs in the air after you open particularly aged cupboard – but at least you don’t half to climb three flights of stairs, climb through a portal and jump out of a gyp room window to get to your room in generic seventies block X.
Shamelessness. While Cambridge’s citizens (the ‘normies’) spend their evenings at meetings of the Assassins’ Guild plotting to knock another student off their bike because they stubbed a fag out on the pavement, the tourists practise a far less aggressive model of ‘point and shoot’ and while I do not resent their bizarre interest in my college scarf and desire to immortalise it in film, they could at least comport themselves with humility. Yesterday, I was overtaken by a woman genuinely declaring: “Let me through! Let me through! I am a tourist!” It is almost surplus to mention that she was touting a little flag behind which stomped a congo-line of similarly bombastic characters (“Coming through!” Cue pompous guffaws; gasps of exaggerated hilarity). Now I have been a tourist. But I feel quite strongly that one ought to have the good grace to hang one’s head, to shuffle and to mutter, rather than to broadcast stentoriously that you are here on a day trip. You should be a little ashamed, mask this with an affected boredom and sneak little glampses of King’s Chapel whilst listening to your iPod, pretending that you aren’t texting your mother to say, ‘Chapel = FIT!’.
Social awkwardness. Public transport is a crucible of social discomfort. (“Ugh. Is that my breath? Did I brush my teeth this morning? Aaaah I can’t remember.”; “Shit – I really didn’t mean to kick him under the table. He does not look happy; that was a pretty inadvertently swift kick.”; “Is she pregnant? Or just fat? Fat or pregnant? Do I give her my seat or not?”; “Oh no. Coffee. Everywhere. Oh fuck it. I’ll just get off here and wait two hours for the next connection taking my now empty cup with me.”) Seating is the most torrid of transport quagmires. You’re on a relatively long journey. There are no seats. You stand with other unlucky commuters. Then – a seat becomes available. You all eye it as keenly – yet furtively – as you eye that homeless drunk who is exposing himself in the smoking area of the pub, silently pleading with him not to harangue you. I was on one such journey recently. We all wanted to sit down. Desperately. But assume the seat and you’re that bastard who took the seat everyone else wanted. The train carriage hung with the acrid fug of communal agony. Until a child – a wonderful, selfish child – parked herself down in the seat and fidgeted for forty minutes. A solution was borne: we could seethe with resentment about the taken seat, whilst simultaneously be gasping with relief that she had solved our problem.
Debt. Not the monumental amount that our education costs but the seemingly inconsequential figures. I found myself 10p short at Sweet Express buying a Nutrigrain bar. Kind proprietor: “leave it – just give it to me next time.” My insides liquefied. Not actually, because unfortunate bowel movements effected by random exchanges in retail establishments would be a particularly unlucky plight, certainly deserving of a niche charity for whom people could run the London Marathon. But what is the etiquette for this repayment? Do I simply offer an extra ten pence with my next transaction and then stroll out before it can be returned with the satisfaction of the self-proclaimed generous tipper? Do I explain, convolutedly, that I owe the establishment 10p? But what if it is a different man and he doesn‘t understand my situation? I just don’t know and thus the only solution is a boycott. Which is a shame because he did a really good yoghurt covered flapjack for 64p. Or should that be 54p? Oh no. Should I post the 10p back with a note?
Mystifying adverts. ‘No time to wash your hair? Tresemme.’ Now. On the basis of this wording – were I uninitiated as to what Tresemme actually is – I would assume logically that it was a solution for those who have no time to wash their hair. Perhaps a range of hats or a brightly coloured paper bag. A time machine at a push. The implication is, rather, I would assume, that Tresemme is a time-saving shampoo. Which is quite spurious in itself. Surely the time that elapses during shampooing is dependent upon the user rather than the product. So the slogan is incoherent and the premise specious, and I wasted at least five minutes puzzling. And you in turn spent at least a fraction of your life reading this. The profits are passed onto the customer.