How Freshers’ Week gave me ‘old man syndrome’
Pass the brandy!
So there I was, unpacked and settled into my spacious third year room, the room adorned with memorabilia from two years of Cambridge, of plays long closed, of parties attended, of May Balls dazzled. "Oh Hark!", I cry out, "where did it all go? How on Earth did I end up here? A washed out THIRD YEAR washed up on the shores of (comparative) old age. A veritable shipwreck of times past."
It's the first Fresher's bop of term and, despite serious misgivings, I decide to pop my head in. The theme is back to the 90s. "Great!" I think, "I love the 90s! Brit pop, Dixie Chicks, Trainspotting! But then I look out and it hits me. Most of the people before me weren't born in the 90s. My back bends, the cartlidge in my knees slips. I suddenly need a nap.
By midweek, we've arrived at Fresher Fair Frenzy, which despite the hype CUSU attempts to inject into it soon becomes a two day terror tedium of free stuff and excessive mailing lists.
In second year, the Fresher's Fair could only be a positive experience. With one year at my back, I felt I could impart some limited advice on the younglings I saw before me, conscious in the knowledge that I was still young, still fresh, bright eyed and bushy tailed. But this year? Not so. "Have you been doing this for long?" I'm asked. I answer truthfully. "Oh, well you're an old hand then" responds some budding Fresher, probably after my job. My blood pressure shoots up, my bones creek, I have an irresistible urge to curl up in an armchair with a glass of scotch. Alas, it is all too real. I am now old!
Tuesday night is pub crawl night. I decide it is time to stop whining and get out, smell the fresh air and buy several severely overpriced pints for the sake of reclaimed youth. I am in conversation with a Fresher. "I do History and Politics," she declares. And then I say it. Those pathetic, pitiful words. "Back in my day that course didn't exist." The poor Fresher looks at me, clearly concerned for my advanced state of health. I retire to my pint, staring into the disgusting thick ale I purchased, a yearly tradition founded on the assumption that this will be the year I 'get into' ale. I am (quite literally) bitterly disappointed.
The night progresses. Oh dear, suddenly I'm in Cindies. I would say the few third years inside were like fish (sharks??) out of water, but fish out of water can usually breathe for about 30 seconds in such an environment. The Cindies Cesspit offers no such luxury.
With age, they say, comes wisdom. And maybe a bit of amnesia. One forgets the awful stench of a fresher's week club night, battered and bruised by the hoards that enter intoxicated. But smells aside, too often you are equally prone to look at your Fresher's week as the best week of your life, a romantic illusion so distant from the smelly, drunken, exhausted truth.
In many ways third year is the best time to return to Cambridge. In first year you are preoccupied with the initial impression, getting on with an impossible amount of people to curb the irrational yet crippling fear you are being left out. Second year, on the other hand, often sees a tragic attempt at a re-impression, a fatal rebranding that will inevitable die off/ wear off by Week 5.
By third year, there's neither the time nor the energy for such pretence. If anything, coming up third time around comes with the comforting feeling of knowing what you're in for, what to expect, who your real friends are, and the fact that the Maypole is criminally overpriced.
So do I really feel old? Just a bit. But with their free bus passes and triple lock pension guarantee, free time, and charming way of not taking life too seriously, being Cambridge old is an identity I can live with. Now back I go to the crossword.