In praise of Portshood, the student GHETTO
Porstwood might be scummy but is it a student paradise?
With a danger of making myself a prime target for the inverted snob brigade, I went and visited some friends in Cambridge last weekend. Some of the clichés are true, but most aren’t. Yes, it is like Hogwarts. No, the students aren’t all rich and pretentious. Yes, they are clever but they’re also human like the rest of us, driven by booze, sex and stress. No, you can’t walk on the grass. It’s an amazing place and if you ever get a chance to go it is certainly worth checking out.
I went with a friend from Soton (shout out to Tom!) and of course we were both asked numerous times what our university is like, whether the city is nice, etc etc. How to respond to these queries when you are sitting within one of the oldest and most distinguished academic institutions in the world? I said what I always say: Southampton is a shithole. Famous for its shipping, whores and latterly, very reasonably priced Vodka, it would be difficult for any of us to pretend that the town has any charm whatsoever.
With about 40 recorded crimes within a two street radius of my house during January, the statistics make Portswood look particularly grim. It’s bloody filthy as well, as you all know (and are probably partly responsible for). Forget that childish game of stepping over the sidewalk cracks: here it’s an exercise in avoiding pavement pizza, broken glass and syringes every time we walk to uni. I’ve seen people take a piss on my road in broad daylight and then continue on their way, beaming happily like dogs that just successfully marked out their territory. I imagine that once upon a time those sizeable houses up on Gordon’s and Alma were somewhat desirable. However, after generations of student occupants, the interiors have been thoroughly soiled. Carved up to create as many rooms as possible by miserly landlords and then completely trashed by house parties, the housing in Portshood is essentially one big festering slum.
So, I certainly wouldn’t choose to raise a family here. But as young adults enjoying our first few years away from the cotton wool comfort of the parental nest, it has a hell of a lot going for it. The Portswood strip, extending from the Mitre all the way down the vomit stained hill to Aldi provides us with absolutely everything we need. ‘Clubs’, pubs, supermarkets and takeaways: it ain’t pretty but it is more than convenient. The area is so utterly dominated by students that the curtain twitchers and neighbourhood watch types who squash any type of fun in most other suburbs have been hounded out, and we can do whatever we want- massive house parties, the Dakar rally, have a sit down curry at 2.30am- and nobody seems to mind. The ‘hood might be grimey, but living on a diet of 7p noodles and gin in a deteriorating, moldy house is an important part of becoming a “well rounded individual” to borrow a phrase from every single CV ever written, and one that other students don’t always have. Portswood is an absolute hole, but it’s our hole.
Cambridge, you can keep your medieval buildings. Bristol, you’re welcome to those pretty Georgian terraces. You might be green and pleasant, Exeter, but you’re full of kids like this. We’ll join you when we’ve reluctantly grown up. At this stage of my life, I’m happy with Portswood the way it is (although flatten Southampton high street by all means!). Perhaps we should recognise that our student ghetto does serve a purpose, and does it remarkably well. Student mayhem is great fun- long may it continue.