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Scurvy, Strippers, and Student Life

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I was fiddling with the car radio this morning, trying to find a station that wasn’t airing dubious advertisements loaded with double entendre, and aimed at men with problems in the bedroom department. The radio stopped on a discussion about two chaps whom the radio presenter knew, who amazingly in this day and age, had managed to get scurvy. They had achieved this minor medical miracle by living off a solid diet of sausages and white bread sandwiches. I didn’t hear the full story, but I did gather part of it was they had moved into a flat together with funds that only stretched to a barbeque purchase, hence the sausages (oh, and a TV).


February/March is the start of the university year in Australia, and I am beginning to take more interest in the whole thing given we are galloping towards the first of the Drama Queens reaching the end of her school career. If we were still in the U.K. or the U.S., this would generally mean the start of her moving out of our home to embark on student life. This is sadly not the case in Sydney, where the majority of students live at home. Indeed Australian young people often live at home until they marry, a Down Under version of the Italian bamboccioni phenomenon.


Sadly for the Drama Queens, I am giving notice now that we are not expecting them to be living at home as students. Aside for reasons to do with sanity, I think student years offer such a fabulous chance to live away from home while still being in a semi-protected environment.


From a personal perspective, my three years at university, approximately 500 kilometers from home, were the most formative years of my life. Being a student at home or away is a life-enriching privilege, but if I had been living at home, no matter how tolerant my parents, I might have missed out on a number of character forming episodes—including the following:


  • Sitting in friends’ rooms until the early hours of the morning. If Echo and the Bunnymen rings a bell, you were probably of that era. Likewise if Chris DeBurgh’s Patricia the Stripper makes the hair on your arms stand up, then you too were probably hanging out on the Y staircase in Angel Court during 1983.
  • Drinking gin mixed with water and sugar because the tonic had run out.
  • Discovering exotic foods such as taramasalata and eating it with brown bread every day for lunch for a term. If you came from Glasgow in the 1980s, you too might have classed taramasalata as exotic. Come to think of it, I probably only just avoided scurvy—the lemon I squeezed on it probably headed it off.
  • Making friends with people with names such as Benedict and Oliver. These names would have gave way to sniggers in Glasgow, where people had manly names such as Cameron, Forbes, or James.
  • Having breakfast in hall and realising those with a high standard of personal grooming stood out as a rarity at 7:30 a.m., and that it was totally socially acceptable to appear bleary-eyed and in an unbrushed state for bacon and toast.
  • Being thrown in at the deep end, knowing no one, and then discovering that this gave boundless opportunity for reinvention and fresh starts without the dragging formlessness of a school persona.
  • Eating raw lentils, as the packet was the only thing left in the communal store cupboard and we were too lazy to cook them (this last point is probably a classic definition of a student).


Most importantly, I made the most fabulous friends, who are still my closest friends today. I rarely see them, but they, lucky people, are still the ones I ring at 2:00 a.m. their time, with the immortal words fitting most emotional occasions—good and bad: “You won’t believe what’s happened to me.” 

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