Lessons learned at the end of my second year

Armed with no more than a bagel and a cold nose, Eleanor Doughty reflects on the meaning of two years at university

The English language has this mysterious ‘they’ presence about itself. ‘They’ say lots of things – sometimes helpful, usually not but always with an air of shrewd knowingness. Andy Warhol, for instance, said that ‘they always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself’. That’s all very well, but who are they?

I’d like to meet them and give them a good slap. But for all we know, ‘they’ don’t exist. ‘They’ are the friend of your boyfriend’s cousin’s best friend’s sister: fictional. Reflecting on the past year, I sat down and questioned what I’d tell a student going to university this year and what the great ‘they’ missed out before I arrived.

Yawn, ‘high school is the best days of your life’, yawn. You can’t even drive or drink wine; that’s the first lie pumped into the adolescent atmosphere. But university is the key to this: you still might not drive, but you can drink as much wine as you like because no one will be there to watch you do it. Except the people you made friends with the night before. But if I had to pick the best day of my life, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I thought it might have been a birthday at some point or the day I opened my A-level results. Or perhaps when I signed for my flat, or last week’s reunion with an old friend. These barely made the cut, so I added essay completion day to the shortlist.

The weekend of discontent – as these 72 hours became known – found me alone in my flat, pining my social life and any indication that it might return. But as the 15,000 words were finished and final drafts saved, my immediate reaction was to walk. A trip into the freezing outdoors evolved into a tour of Spitalfields on a celebratory bagel hunt. I am lucky enough to live in close proximity to London’s best – as affirmed by Adrian Edmonson – takeaway, fully stocked with as much salt beef as one can consume. In the glow of Bangla City’s continental supermarket sign, I felt reflective. It’s funny how inspiration strikes.

But I didn’t expect to be honouring second year with a £1.20 spend. And far less, on a bench outside Patisserie Valerie. This isn’t how life is supposed to be, I noted as I scribbled baby parts of this week’s column out with freezing hands. Secluded celebration wasn’t on the list of prescribed pre-university knowledge. Nor was the absence of flatmates – cohabitation was supposed to be a hoot! Not so hooty. It’s up there with the mysteries of chromosome X boiler relighting – they don’t teach that in Home Economics, a class I wrote off on the premise that I’d just marry a man who could change a fuse. Incidentally, I am still none the wiser. ‘They’ also don’t let on that it’s okay not to be okay, but Jessie J did that anyway. Instead, you leave home armed with images of pizza-in-the-library all-nighters and foam parties. Who even goes to foam parties, anyway?

My learning has been less than academic this year. In February I made my first spontaneous hairdressers appointment, got a fringe and didn’t tell anyone until it was too late. It was then that I learn how your judgement can override all else. It looked great, by the way. Various banal lists of further-educational-institution-spouted tripe include generic kitchen packing information. Before I left home, I was more concerned about exactly which crockery to buy than what I’d be faced with when I got there.

Perplexingly, those ‘in the know’ miss out helpful things like ‘learn how to live alone’. This is handy as a girl because sometimes you break things like curtain rails – ahem – or buy flatpack furniture too tricky to master alone. And once I pulled the front of my knicker drawer off in a rush and we all went flying across the room, so knowledge of superglue stockists helps too. All of that ought to be in the upper school curriculum. Never mind personal statements, the best way to change a bin bag without getting your hands dirty ought to be in a guidebook somewhere. I am proud to say I’ve finally perfected that.

A footnote about loo roll would have been useful too: so many types, so much money! You are also left uninformed about how sometimes everything is in its right place, because you wouldn’t believe them anyway. But I’m glad I was in the dark because otherwise this year would have been more like the Squirrel Nutkin ride at Alton Towers than Oblivion. There aren’t student handbooks for this stuff; you have to work it out alone. And that, I guess, is growing up.

Eleanor Doughty is a second-year student at Queen Mary, University of London. Follow her on Twitter here. She probably won't follow you back.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Developer - Norfolk - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Software Developer - Norf...

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine