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'. Everything is different now...
With ten things completed on my list of 50, I decided to tackle some of the really tough instructions.
26. Swim in a fountain (campus if possible, town will do)
27. Go paddling on a hot day
It is clear to me that whoever wrote this list had either never been to Sheffield or was simply a cruel and merciless human being. I can imagine them sitting around compiling the list, laughing at the students of our noble city. ‘We’ll include one about a hot day, that’ll confuse the poor bastards.’
Well the joke’s on you, because while ‘9°, dull, with occasional light rain or drizzle, also extensive hill fog’ might seem chilly to you poncy southerners down at the LSE, up here in Sheffield it’s considered a glorious day.
In order to secure tropical bathing conditions, I waited for the temperature to hit double figures before launching the paddling mission. Finally I struck 11-centigrade gold. I recruited a few mates for a spot of light swimming, and to get us into the mood we headed into town to have a shandy and discuss the plan of action.
The hours came and went until, to my surprise, I found myself walking through Sheffield city centre explaining to my one remaining friend that it was imperative we journeyed home via the fountain precinct opposite City Hall.
Barker’s Pool, home to two of Sheffield’s finest water features, won Gold in the 2006 ‘Town Centre Environment Awards’ following an impressive renovation. Six years later it hosted the equally prestigious ‘Holding Your Breath Underwater Awards’, organised as post-paddle entertainment. Despite starting strong in the competition, I surfaced early after realising I had left my socks on and panicking about developing trench foot.
Where paddling had caused minor problems, swimming proved to be even more challenging. There is a reason why very small, very shallow bodies of water were not used for the 100m freestyle at the London Olympics. The majority of fountains are not of sufficient length or breadth to accommodate multiple athletes set on doing any serious swimming.
From their humble beginnings as aesthetically pleasing water features, they have grown to accommodate the jobs of collection buckets, bird baths and urinals. Despite this, the evidence suggests that they will never take the place of the chlorine-perfumed leisure centre.
Paddling and swimming tasks completed for the first and last time, we made our escape.
28. Hold your own Come Dine with Me with other student houses
Come Dine With Me is a television programme that gets four or five awful, awful people together and makes each of them host a dinner party for the rest of the squalid crew. They take it in turns to host and rate each others’ dinner parties out of ten, and the person with the highest score at the end wins a thousand pounds.
Unfortunately my student version of Come Dine with Me lacked the £1,000 reward money you might get for horribly embarrassing yourself, so candidates were not as forthcoming as I had hoped. To get around this, and also add some romance to my relationship, I proposed an intimate dining experience with my beloved at each of our houses. We would rate each others’ meals and the loser would take the winner out to dinner as a prize.
I went first. My meal consisted of chicken with rice, fresh green peppers and a delicious black bean sauce. My darling veggie girlfriend had to substitute chicken for more vegetables, but didn’t seem to mind.
I thought the night was going pretty well, so was surprised to hear her express disappointment that I ‘hadn’t even bothered to take it out of the takeaway carton’.
In addition to the food, I had thoughtfully asked a couple of my friends to lay on some entertainment, so we were able to watch a classic FIFA battle whilst enjoying our meal. She complained a bit about having to drink from a bowl, but I explained that it was safer than drinking out of one of the communal glasses and eventually she let it go.
A few days later it was her turn. She had prepared roast chicken, Yorkshire puddings, honey glazed parsnips, butter and sage carrots, balls of stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy and even lemon bloody cheesecake for dessert. The meal was cooked to perfection, the kitchen was clean and the table was beautifully laid. But as I said at the time, no one likes a show off. I gave her 3/10.
The experience taught me many valuable lessons, but one stuck in my mind more than the rest; If you ever appear on the TV show Come Dine with Me, make sure to give everybody else 0/10, you’re much more likely to win that way.
I genuinely don’t know why people don’t think of that more often.
7. Read a book that isn't study-related
The fact that this is deemed list-worthy is indicative of the degradation Higher Education has suffered.
The first book I read at university was In Praise of Older Women by Stephen Vizinczey; it’s excellent.
48. Become a wise mentor for a Fresher doing your course.
Having struggled to find a pretender to my wisdom, I was lucky enough to accidentally stumble into a first year seminar. Rather than immediately excuse myself, I performed a word perfect version of Polonius’ advice to Laertes, before asking if anybody had any questions. They didn’t, and with that my work was done.
15 down, 35 to go. Lord have mercy on our souls.
James Ashford is a giggling idiot. Follow him on Twitter: @iamjamesashford