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Doing the 50: The devil makes work for idle minds

This week, indolent Sheffield third-year James Ashford sets up an illicit moonshine still using his stash of fruit cordial and wastes perfectly good champagne.
  • @iamjamesashford

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'. It hasn’t really turned out like that.

With 25 things completed on my list of 50, it was time to crack on.

11. Make your own booze
13. Have an incredibly elaborate picnic on a uni green space one lunch time
38. Make a kite and fly it

The festivities were over and time put aside for gastronomy and gluttony had come to an end. After a Christmas period generally spent lying down, motionless and swollen, it was time to get back to a life of squats, lunges and sub-9,000 calorie days.

Before letting go of my acquired gulosity completely, I decided to indulge in one last meal of excess. I would stage ‘an incredibly elaborate picnic’ complete with home-produced alcohol and light entertainment by way of kite flying.

It didn’t take me long to discover that making your own wine is a pretty long and laborious process, which goes some of the way to explaining why people usually just buy it in shops. Another reason is that doing it incorrectly can make you go blind. Yet another reason is that even the successes are typically shit.

Nevertheless, I persevered, albeit using a slightly simplified version of the instructions I found. I sterilised various different containers using boiling water, and dried them off using a hairdryer. Next, I put a bit more water on to boil, this time in a pan. At this point I was wondering what all the fuss was about; boiling water is one of the few culinary techniques that I can manage with relatively few hiccups.

There was a lot of talk about ‘fruit’ and other pansy nonsense in the official instructions, but I soon realised that fruit juice is basically the same thing just a stage later. I wanted to use grape juice to make the wine as authentic as possible, so I conducted some initial taste tests with various samples.

It was during these tests that I discovered the foul-tasting, liquid waste in a bottle, Shloer. It claimed to be a ‘sparkling addition to any picnic’, which I thought was a bit misguided for a drink that tasted like contents of a particularly unwell person’s septic tank. In the end I settled for standard, 100 per cent grape juice.

After funnelling the nectar into my sterile container, I added the water, a yeasty mixture, and a bit more water with sugar dissolved into it. I popped a balloon over the mouth of the container and left it to turn into wine, which is more or less what Jesus did.

I had over a week until my Châteauneuf-du-Sheffield was ready, so I set about making my kite. I’d done this before in year eight Home Economics and so I was confident that I already knew the basics. It only took me a few hours to come up with a kite that had reasonable potential.

Ten days later I headed to the park at uni with the kite in one hand and picnic basket in the other. I was so much in the spirit of making things that I had even personally customised the picnic basket. I borrowed a metal basket from the local branch of a popular national supermarket and lined the inside with soft, beautiful and thoroughly absorbent kitchen roll.

The picnic itself can be considered a partial success. The combination of cloudy, sediment-filled wine and an aggressive kite flying technique nearly caused some problems, but the important thing to remember is that nobody was seriously hurt.

With three more tasks ticked off the list, I’d finally crossed the halfway mark.

45. Celebrate something by doing the classic shake up a bottle of champagne and spraying it all over yourself and everywhere

Whilst my wine had been fermenting, I had taken the opportunity to fly to Berlin for New Years Eve. My significantly German other had invited me to a party near Hackerscher Markt and we headed off after watching the traditional Dinner for One, the same procedure as every year. [Germans are mysteriously obsessed with an obscure British sketch from the 1960s, to the extent that they watch it religiously as a nation every New Year’s Eve – ed.]

Another German tradition is throwing explosives at one another, which I found out courtesy of my fräulein’s brother on the walk to the S-Bahn. After getting off the train we met another friend and negotiated our way to the top of the apartment block.

It turned out that the friend had brought a saltshaker and segments of pre-sliced lemon with her so we could enjoy some tequila in the proper fashion. We found a bottle and went out onto the roof to get a better view of the city.

Half an hour later, everybody filtered outside to see the fireworks. Our bottle of champagne had survived, and as the panoramic pyrotechnics reached a crescendo, I popped the cork and sprayed it around. Over the noise of fireworks, I could just about make out the sound of several frugal German hearts breaking around me as some of the drink sprayed over the edge of the roof.

The rest of the night is predictably hazy, but fond memories of long conversations in entirely fabricated German remain. Grinning photos with mystery friends tell me everything I need to know. The train journey home was shared with a group of charming Brazilian students who I was sad to leave when they went to urinate behind the station.

23. Get involved in a play or some kind of performance

For Christmas my uncle had arranged for my sister, my mother and I to go and see Peter Pan with him and my cousin at Buxton Opera House. Unfortunately as the old expression goes, ‘you can’t polish a rubbish and definitely racist pantomime.’

Nevertheless, we tried to make the most of it. We all had a laugh after catching my uncle pretending to be a ticket inspector at the door of the auditorium, all of us except for the child he turned away because he’d lost his ticket.

Once the dreadful onslaught of One Direction songs and out of step dancing had finally finished, Smee appeared on stage to read the birthday announcements. We comically stood up for a few different shout-outs which only made it all the more embarrassing when Smee shouted ‘Happy Birthday to James Ashford, seventeen today!’ I had to stand up and give the sort of wave a teenage panto fan might give on his special day.

Despite the embarrassment, I concluded that it had been enough of an involvement to tick off another thing from my list, and with that, I was another five things closer to completing the 50.

James Ashford is a great galoot. Follow him on Twitter: @iamjamesashford