Diary of a Fresher: "The handout reads like a mistranslated computer manual"

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The Independent Online

Lectures are pretty new to me. Theoretically, they are optional, but "optional" turns out to be one of those university euphemisms which actually mean the opposite. Not that I considered slacking off for a moment, of course, but it would be nice to have the option of reading for an hour instead, should the lecture turn out to be an incomprehensible translation of a handout delivered at 9am.

Still, I'm secretly glad when they finally start. Freshers' week was fun, but the relentless socialising and drinking and auditioning has been draining. Not that I expect academia to make my life any easier, but at least it ought to break it up a bit.

I am, perhaps, a little too prepared for my first lecture. My recently acquired manbag contains at least one of almost every item from the stationary section of W H Smith: five different pens, two pencils, ruler, sharpener, protractor, empty ringbinder, water bottle, and the coup de grace, not one but two identical refill pads. Do your worst, university! There's nothing like having two different kinds of highlighter to make an otherwise anxious fresher feel invincible.

Five minutes before festivities begin, I'm in my seat. I'm ready for this. Not even the fact that my water bottle has leaked onto refill pad no.1 can faze me. The clock is conveniently placed behind the seating, making subtle time checks impossible. I notice a couple of Dictaphones dotted about the room, which makes my horde of stationary seem inadequate, although I discover later that only dyslexics are allowed them, lest we decide en masse to substitute listening to the recorded version for the real thing. Academics like to feel useful, I suppose.

The gowned professor enters the room with the sort of sweeping shuffle of which only ageing academics seem capable. He hands out some notes before plonking himself behind the lectern. Here goes.

It doesn't take me long to become lost. What notes are we supposed to take, anyway? Not knowing what sort of essays we'll be expected to write, how do we sort out the relevant points from the interesting but useless ones? In this case, the "useless" ones seem to come across rather more strongly than the "interesting" ones. It doesn't immediately matter, as the professor doesn't seem to have said anything coherent so far, let alone anything that remotely relates to the lecture title. But the guy next to me has already managed to scribble half a page of notes. Notes on what? I try scanning the handout for clues but it reads like a mistranslated computer manual.

By now I've completely lost whatever thread the lecturer was trying to follow, so I give up on being clever and just write as much of what the lecturer says word for word as I physically can. Who cares if all my notes are either incoherent or illegible?

I'll worry about that in exam term. I promise myself that I'll do some extra reading before my next lecture. I won't, of course, but it's nice to pretend.