You can look on it in a number of ways. It might be the opportunity to meet the love of your life. It might be the chance to find new vocations, interests and sports. It might be the time to party and drink till you drop. Or it might just be one of the crueller inhumanities that mature human beings can inflict on the young.
Tens of thousands of 18-year-olds are embarking on Freshers' Week. It was Freshers' Weekend when I went to university, but this is clearly one area where higher education has expanded. I feel for those 18-year-olds. Freshers' Week is really just Lord Of The Flies with a library and a sports hall. It is survival of the mentally and psychologically fittest. Most will be desperate to make an impression on their peers, adopt personalities that are far from their own and, in desperation, cling to new friends that they won't even recognise by the third term.
Envious glances will be thrown at those who have found instant boy-friends or girlfriends, whereas in fact they are not boyfriends or girlfriends at all. They are human comfort blankets.
My own memory of being a fresher is that in my keenness to meet people and not lock myself away with a book, I took the said book down to the student coffee bar and pretended to look at it there in the hope that I'd get chatting to someone. It was over a year later that my then best friend informed me that people thought at the time that I must be an appalling loser – couldn't even keep his head out of a book in the coffee bar.
The whole idea of Freshers' Week is a little unnatural. Weird as it might sound, the best bonding comes from the shared interests of work. Once lectures and tutorials start, there is a bedrock of stuff to talk about, lecturers to inspire insults, or just occasionally fantasies, books to discuss, essays to crib. Sure, a day or two is necessary to get a feel of the place and join those societies, clubs and sports teams (worth doing as all those facilities get expensive after college). But a whole week in the bar might be too much of a good thing.
There is, apparently, an illness called freshers' flu, still to be properly analysed in The Lancet medical journal, which a good number of first-year students succumb to by the end of Freshers' Week. It is caused by a succession of late nights, too much drinking and injudicious kissing. There is no known cure.
But it's not just the physical illnesses that first-year students have to try to avoid. Probably there are psychological maladies in store too. To paraphrase Erica Jong's feminist tract Fear Of Flying, there will be for many students a Fear of Freshers. But they should try not to worry.
Freshers' Week has only a passing acquaintance with reality. It's a strange dream-like interlude between school and college proper. It bears no real relation to either. And very quickly it will pass. It might pass in a drunken haze, it might pass in a cold sweat; but pass it will.
The friends you make will not be your friends for long. The habits you acquire will not be your habits for long. The neuroses you develop will not be your neuroses for long. Well, not for too long.
Singletons on a roll as they search for love
Alton Towers has inaugurated a new from of speed-dating – and speed is certainly the right word in this case. The amusement park in Staffordshire has made its rollercoaster a singles only ride on certain occasions. Separate queues form, and men and women, boys and girls are paired off for the ride. Apparently, and to my surprise, the experiment has been quite successful. Relationships have indeed begun on the slow ride up and the swift, scary drop.
I'm surprised because I've never been that fond of rollercoasters, usually shutting my eyes and finding it a little difficult to breathe. But maybe that's an apt description for a number of first dates. I do acknowledge, though, that there is an urge to grab the hand or indeed anything belonging to the person sitting next to you. So maybe rollercoaster speed-dating does get rid of some of the time-wasting preliminaries. Perhaps grope-dating would be a better description.
A rollercoaster is the wrong ride for a speed-dating experiment. Call me sentimental, but surely the Ghost Train would be better. It's more leisurely, there are frights during which you can cuddle up to a fellow rider, also a few laughs for those who want to be bonded by a sense of humour – and you can keep your eyes open and see what you might be getting.
The day Everett's joke crashed and burned
The BBC has parted company with its veteran radio announcer Peter Jefferson, shortly after he inadvertently swore on air while reading the shipping forecast. The two events are unconnected, says the BBC – just another of life's great coincidences.
In his early days with the corporation, Jefferson was on the other side of an embarrassing incident, involving the great broadcaster Kenny Everett. I wrote Everett's biography, and during my researches I discovered that one of the many reprimands he received from his bosses, when he was a Radio One presenter, came when he handed over to Jefferson, then a newsreader in the late 1960s. A famous rock band of the time was the American group, Jefferson Airplane.
As he handed over, Everett said merrily: "And here comes Peter Jefferson with his airplane."
He listened in horror as Jefferson read out the lead story – about a fatal plane crash.