sharing a house and a new weekly column in The Independent.
They're supposed to be the best days of your life. Three years of freedom and discovery with friends for life; the glory years between the restraints of school and the pressures of a career. We look back at our student days through rose-tinted glasses, but what are they like in the cold light of day, or the bright lights of a big city?
Over the coming weeks, nine second-year students at Manchester University are going to tell us. Tash, Rosie, Leona, Robbie, Alistair, Dave, Dani, Rachel and Ian have all moved to a three-storey house in Fallowfield, the city's student district. Some of them are best friends; others hardly know each other. Some are party animals, others prefer cultured evenings at the Alternative Cinema Cafe.
Will they all live blissfully under one roof? How will they cope with the practicalities and emotional issues? Whatever happens, we're charting the highs and lows of living This Student Life.
Tash is the resident cynic and her dry-humoured one-liners are a hit with the household. "I don't think student life has opened my mind," says the 19-year-old Londoner. "It's the opposite. There are so many things I do because everyone else does them."
She lives on the first floor with her closest college friends, Leona and Rosie. "And I like Alistair," she says, "he's really sound." Coming from boarding school, she thinks nothing of sharing a house with eight other people. She knows what to expect.
"We're just coming out of the honeymoon period where no one's shouted about stuff," explains the Management and Textiles student. "Now we're moving on. We're being ourselves more and saying exactly what we think."
Rosie is a Liv Tyler-lookalike with a husky voice and a fear of spiders who has an arachnid family living in her room. She used to worry about her studies but Tash and Leona have brought her round. She loves going back home to London to see her boyfriend, Joe, and her friends in their indie band, Hung Up.
She's learning what boys are really like to live with. "I find them really repulsive," laughs the 19-year-old who's doing French and European studies. Rosie's the most nervous about the house. "I feel a bit uneasy here if I'm on my own because it's huge and scary," she explains. "There's this crazy woman who keeps coming around and telling us there was a ghost in the house and a couple got murdered." She pauses. "But she's completely mad and watches rats in her spare time."
Leona comes from a village near Coventry and is here to party. "I didn't settle into university well," confesses the 19-year-old Maths and Management student. "It took me ages. I don't know what I'm going to do when I leave college but I know I want to be rich!" She's got a close relationship with the house television, in particular with soaps. Her night-time entertainment involves searching out Manchester's drum 'n' bass clubs. She's one of those wild-on-the-quiet types. "We're all getting on," she says. "The only thing we argue about is how little space there is in the fridge. It's nothing serious. It'll probably all work out fine because it's such a big house and we're not all here at the same time. But you have to be one of the lads here."
Alistair has the best room in the house. It's on the ground floor and has its own bar. But then he is Mr Money Maker. "Before I came to college, I spent a year in Australia where I set up my own business," says the 20-year-old baby entrepreneur. "The people you meet in university you stay with for life, and the people on my course are the successful people of the future." Alistair brings a new meaning to ambition. He's got no time for fluffy academia. He's come to university because it will help him get rich.
The International Management student's latest venture is Divine 69, a fetish party at The Phoenix club this week. His bed is littered with promotional posters and he's roped the whole house into going. He's never lived with anyone else in the house but knows Robbie and Leona.
Alistair not only has a flair for cash but can also hold his own with Manchester's colourful street life. He recently talked down a psychopath who had threatened him.
"He said he was in a Manchester gang and that he'd have me knee-capped, but in the end I shook his hand, got his name and he was cool."
Robbie and Dave
Robbie and Dave are the Bill and Ted of the household, and lived together in a house of eight lads last year. They're often spotted dressing up in big wigs for the local Seventies night, or larking around the house wearing next-to-nothing.
"I have two older sisters who went to university and they used to tell me stories about it, so being a student is exactly like I expected," explains the 19-year-old economics student from Leeds. "Which was that it was a really big social life. In the first year, I had some big student nights because I used to live in a flat with eight lads and that was really wicked."
Robbie's quite happy to be on the first floor with Rosie, Tash and Leona. "There aren't any posters of semi-clad women on the walls," he says, "and the conversation is not all beer and birds." He reckons he does the washing- up while the girls do most of the cleaning. "Because there are nine of us it's difficult to get things done," he continues. "Hiring the TV was tricky, and we just got a pounds 250 itemised phone bill. You can imagine all the highlighter pens on that!"
"I was a quiet, reserved Chinese boy who would hardly talk to anybody before I came to college," explains 19-year-old Dave. "But college has made me much more confident and outgoing. I want to be this really friendly guy that everyone likes." He has quickly succumbed to Student Hair Syndrome. "Just after I had shaved and dyed my hair, my mother paid for me to go to Hong Kong to visit her for four weeks," recalls the economics student. "She didn't speak to me for two of them."
Dave is king of the snapshot, and pictures of his friends' bare bums plaster his walls. He has hope, though, and thinks that living with girls will make him less of an old prankster and more of a new lad. "I want to settle down and do more work this term," he explains. "I can't carry on going out, stripping off and spewing up because the girls don't like it."
Dani is the student least likely to strip off or spew up. She's too busy either working as a non-sabbatical student officer or learning to parachute jump. "There's so much laid out for you and lots of opportunities at university," says the 20-year-old environmental biology student. "I overload myself quite a lot and sometimes I wish I could have a break, but I like knowing there is always something to do."
She lives on the top floor with Rachel, her flat-mate from last year, and knew Tash before she moved in. The boys are more of an unknown quantity. "I like to come home because it's a nice atmosphere," she explains. "But it's not hygienic," she says. "I don't think my parents could live here!"
Rachel doesn't like students in general. "I detest the embarrassing way they behave," she explains. "I don't like that get-pissed-and-pull-blokes student mentality at all." She prefers Canal Street (Manchester's trendy bar and cafe district) and the Cult Movie Cafe.
"I'm thinking about forming a band at the moment," says the 20-year-old from Surrey. Rachel sees a lot of her friends outside the house, mainly from her Art History and Architecture course. She's also the first one to go to the landlord if there's a problem with the house. "I don't tell anyone I'm going," she says. "I just want to know when things are going to be fixed. I like to be on the level with people."
Ian's old Leeds schoolfriend, Robbie, was the only one he knew when he moved in, and he's hardly home because he works 40 hours a week. "Money is a major problem for me," explains the 19-year-old geography student. "My dad's disabled and my mum is unemployed. I get a full grant but it's nowhere near enough."
In spite of the setbacks, he's having a ball. "These are the best years of my life," he continues. "You get to experience a lot of things you'd never experience at home." Although he's messy and swears a lot, Ian's really a bit of a softy. "In 10 years time, I could see myself having a nice house, and I'd like to be married," he admits. "I had a girlfriend for two years and we've just broken up. I wasn't ready for commitment but we're still good friends."
They say truth is stranger than fiction. We're about to find out.
This Student Life will appear every Tuesday in the ReviewReuse content