STUDENT FINANCE: Beware the man who asks about your undies

Decca Aitkenhead recalls how a life of academic poverty drove her in desperation to the pub

The bank manager studied my cheque book, narrowed his eyes, and roared. "Miss Aitkenhead, is that really a sensible sum to be spending on underwear?"

This was not the banking relationship I had anticipated. Only a month ago, the delightful man drooling over my assets promised heaven and earth. Now, here he was intruding on my most intimate outgoings, and I had learnt my first lesson of student finance. The Prince Charming of Freshers' Week who courts your grant cheque is the Prince of Darkness by week five.

His attitude can also, I learned, mean the difference between three years of poverty-ridden angst and the Best Days Of Your Life. I sought advice from an older, wiser, poorer student, and got myself a new one.

Several large lies and blonde smiles later, I found myself a genial old fellow happy to indulge my shocking profligacy. Studenthood was suddenly looking up.

Serious financial crisis struck when I began renting a house with six friends. On rent day one of us would be stationed in the hall cupboard, on look-out duty in case the landlord appeared. Monitoring each other's electricity consumption soon descended into high farce and we would regularly stumble upon a faction huddled in the airing cupboard, bitching about somebody's telephone usage. UN conflict resolution had nothing on our household bill negotiations. How any of us managed to stay friends remains a mystery.

My second flat seemed marvellously cheap, until winter arrived and the heating came on. With it came a truly monstrous stench, and we learned that half the flat had once served as the gents for the curry house downstairs. It was a long and trying winter.

In moments of financial distress, we would devise clever economy schemes. The most obvious was to give up buying food, and steal it from your housemates. This worked very well until poverty struck equally; it then broke down, there being nothing left to steal. It also required a degree of thick skin, for the strategy provoked a certain frostiness, which could get quite uncomfortable.

My least successful economy drive came in the depths of the third year. Quite simply, I stopped going to the laundrette. It was a brief and disastrous experiment, which I recommend to no-one.

Penury inspired an interesting morality in us all: a shortage of funds enabled us to dispense with all conventional notions of right and wrong. I would cheerfully assure the bank of the imminent arrival of large and entirely fictitious cheques. I lied to the landlord as a point of honour. Friends went further, and engaged with enthusiasm in drug dealing and petty fraud. Tales of student prostitution were legendary. I was fortunate to profit from the latter, as the local paper paid me to write about it.

Eventually I got myself a job. The supreme martyrdom with which I submitted to a few hours gentle bartending each week still makes me blush; quite why it seemed such noble hardship I have no idea. But it pleased my bank manager enormously - he thereon addressed me as his "little ray of sunshine". He also became ludicrously slack about my overdraft, which pleased me enormously.

There is no doubt some students get a gratuitous kick out of poverty. For me poverty sucked, and blissful as my university memories are, the scent of disused curry house toilet will always linger.

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Sport
Steven Caulker of QPR scores an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool
football
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Science teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a languages...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Randst...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past