Doing the 50: Down and out in Edinburgh

This week, Sheffield third-year James Ashford engages in some sharp practice on his way to Edinburgh, reminisces about criminal damage and, against explicit instructions, fails to win a pub quiz
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A few months ago, I stumbled across a list of 50 things to do before you leave university. The list was pretty bland and vaguely patronising, but it gave me some direction. I decided to complete all fifty things, write about them, and in the process have some 'life-changing experiences'. I’m not entirely sure that’s how it’s turned out.

With 35 things completed on my list of 50, I was nearing the end of my monumental task.

10. Drive to a beach. Swim. (If your uni is miles away from the coast, you'll just have to stay over)

19. Go on a weekend country jaunt

A few weeks ago, a discount deal involving a national newspaper, a promotions company and a train ticket website got a bit out of hand. It’s all rather complicated, but the upshot of the blunder carefully orchestrated PR stunt was that loads of people ended up getting a lot of free train tickets.

In an entirely unrelated incident, I just so happened to get some enormously expensive tickets to Edinburgh for Valentine’s Day. I was apprehensive and excited about the trip. It would take me and my bonny lass further north than we had ever been in our lives. The emotions I felt were something very similar to the feeling you might get hearing Malcolm Tucker narrate the Visit Scotland adverts.

More surprising than the rail journey being free was the fact that they usually charge for the service. What looked like a freight train on the outside and a 70s living room on the inside was made unimaginably worse by some evil, sour-cream-Pringle-eating sadist a few seats in front. Fortunately the resulting odour of chronic bromodosis was masked by the perfume of the broken-down toilet, and before long I was able to put my stinging nostrils to the back of my mind and enjoy the ride.

Edinburgh itself was a fascinating and beautiful city. To pay with a Scottish banknote in England, you are forced to go through quite a severe phase of interrogation, witness several phonecalls to head office and suffer a look of disgust on the cashier’s face. In Scotland, the only banknote trouble I had was when I tried to pay for a bus ticket with a tenner. In England, being greeted by anything above a two-pound coin causes most bus drivers to either scream, cry or spontaneously combust. In Edinburgh, the driver casually shouted down the bus to see if anyone had any change.

Though Edinburgh is actually a city, any trip that involves climbing a volcano qualifies as a ‘weekend country jaunt’ in my book. Our trip up Arthur’s Seat was an enjoyable affair, though climbing over the rocks in winklepickers proved to be somewhat of a challenge. I managed to plough on, thinking of the spectacular photos I would get of the sunset when we reached the peak.

On reaching the summit, I produced my camera, which instantly told me it was out of battery. Having cleverly anticipated this, I rather smugly reached into my bag to grab a couple of the sixteen spare AAA batteries I had brought along with me. Unfortunately, it turned out my camera took AA; what would have been a barely amusing moment in a sitcom was an enormously frustrating moment in life.

The next day we headed away from the centre once more, to the glamorous Portobello beach resort. It was more Barmouth than St. Tropez, but there’s only so much a beach can offer when the temperature is in single figures. The swimming had more of a Jack/Rose/Floating door vibe to it than I would have liked, and I decided to get out pretty sharpish.

Despite going to a city and not the country and getting the train to the beach, not driving, I felt I had captured the essence of the tasks before me. Two more things were ticked off my list of fifty, and we travelled home in the relative luxury of a first class carriage paid for by a promotion company’s slip-up/act of genius.

41. Find out the names of all those people you know far too well to not know their names.

Despite being a third year undergraduate, in the last fortnight I have attended two seminars which started with an average of 30 minutes playing ‘get to know you’ games. I’m assuming that the lecturers are getting it out of their systems on the £3500-a-year students, before the ones paying £9000 a year come along.

Despite the slight ‘year 4’ feel to proceedings, I’ve learnt the names of about twenty people on my course, so I suppose you’d have to call the games a success. Maddie, Harriet, Pippa, Dan, Ravi, Chris, Me, Jack, Tom, Tom, Dom, Josh, Jess, James, Joe, Nova, Richard, Amy, Xena, Keeley, Rosie, Angie. I’m depending on ‘names of people you sit next to’ being a big part of our final exams.

29. Take part in a protest

In my first year of university I went down to London on a few occasions to protest about government cuts to higher education. The naive hope that we were actually making a difference was a brilliant feeling. It got a bit lairy when I reached Millbank. There was a bit of a fire going on outside, which is one explanation as to why someone decided to chuck an extinguisher off the roof.  Other explanations are less charitable, ‘bit of a cock’ being the one most people go for.

Still, the chanting was good: ‘Nick Clegg, we know you, you're a fucking Tory too’ was popular, and to be honest, fair enough really. After a bit, people kicked their way inside. The rest is history, and I hope history notes that some people were bothered for a bit and didn’t just roll over.

37. Win a pub quiz (whatever it takes)

Came second, won some large comedy moustaches and free drinks. Still counts. [It clearly doesn't - ed.]

James Ashford is looking good for his 2:2. Follow him on Twitter: @iamjamesashford