23 November 2009

"Hope your room is to your liking..."

Facebook has got me in touch with a few old college pals lately and, being the nostalgist I am, subsequently had me thinking about my solitary year of education away from home.

I didn't go to university. After passing my A-levels, despite the best efforts of my head of sixth form to force me to fail, I went to Darlington College of Technology to train as a journalist. The course felt quite exclusive as it was the only direct training course available at the time and gave you recognised trainee status after a year of study if you passed your exams at the end.

So, upon acceptance on to this course, I received from the college a list of available accommodation premises in the Darlington patch, some within easy walking distance of the college, some a bus or bike ride away. I opted to stay in a guest house rather than take on student digs; I figured that this would make me a little more disciplined in getting the right things done on the course as stuff like housework and meals were done for me.

The guest house was run by a Scottish family and had a smattering of students, but it was mainly made up of doleites and long-term pensioner residents, plus the usual array of shift workers and overnighters. The pensioners were an interesting bunch; all men, all widowers, all somehow affected by their working lives to the extent that they couldn't cope with the idea of living alone and so, upon the loss of their wives, moved into a guest house.

As a teenage student who knew bugger all, their stories would be most enlightening but often they were told second hand, as they didn't seem to trust any of the younger people who shared the dining area with them. One chap was called Rudi, a German prisoner of war who stayed in England afterwards and built a family life here. A second chap was as introverted as any person I've ever met in my life, apparently suffering from lifelong traumas caused by what he observed and endured in the Korean conflict. Yet though I was able to smalltalk with them, they didn't choose to tell any stories. The landlady was, instead, the relayer of this fascinating information. As a trainee hack there were potential interviews there but it was impossible to know where to begin.

Three doleites stayed at this guest house too. One was called Craig, a chap who was pleasant on the outside but, as it turned out, was a bail dodger who was facing charges of obtaining money by deception; essentially this involved vulnerable pensioners and non-existent conservatories. When he left the guest house in a hurry, he owed me £35, which was a lot for a student on what the dreaded Humberside County Council considered a worthwhile grant. He nicked more than £200 from one of the other doleites, a simple but likeable local boy called Keith, who spent his money on records. Weeks after I moved out, I later learned he had been fooled into lending his record collection to someone who promptly flogged the lot and disappeared. There were some vile people in Darlington in 1992...

The third doleite was called Alan, who was a temporary resident who had injunctions against him as he battled his way through a horrific divorce. I remember once he went out to visit his wife, all smartly suited and booted, and came back with a nosebleed and black eye after an encounter with her new bloke. He and I talked about all sorts but mainly football and music, and only disagreed once when I was watching the Conservative Party conference on the communal television and he came in to switch over for the horse racing. I lost the row.

I do wonder what happened to each of these people. I would suppose that none of the old chaps are with us any more. I hope Craig got caught, punished and rehabilitated but I also hope Keith and Alan are doing okay. In the end, a lack of stimulating conversation and a need to fend more for myself took over, and I moved out after one term and took a room in a house where two other chaps from my course lived. Aside from a mad, drunken Welsh building student in the room downstairs occasionally smashing the place up, it was a decent six months there and I was able to combine studying with partying to good effect, and could make a killer pasta 'n' sauce for four.

Looking back, I should have done that from the start though when I think back, I was the same as most of the other 18 year old school leavers on the course (there were five of us; the rest were graduates or mature students) as I chose to live in a place where help was at hand. Two of the other school leavers did likewise, although they lodged with families instead of taking a room in a guest house. The other two school leavers were already local to the area and so stayed at home.

To be honest, I'm not sure what the point is to telling you all this. I suppose I should find one. Well, I'm twice the age now as I was in Darlington and yet the year I spent there remains very influential on how I've lived ever since. Leaving home for the first time and seeing how other people live strengthens you and enlightens you, and as I didn't immediately get a job in newspapers upon finishing the course, it was a little bit of a culture shock when I had to go back to my parents' house again, aged 19, with a professional qualification and desperate to experience real adult life. A year later I found work, moved out and never went back.

Right now, there are people I went to school with who, for varying reasons of misfortune, are still living with their parents. I don't pity them at all, but I also don't envy them. To have your own space, be it a dingy room in a guest house or a decent home of your own via a mortgage, is totally invaluable.

I want to know about your student digs, and your first home after shuffling free of the apron strings.


Kolley Kibber said...

That's fascinating! Reminds me of William Trevor's 'The Boarding House', which you might enjoy if you haven't already read it.

What a curiously mature decision to have made at such a young age, too - foregoing the dubious delights of student digs, just so you could get the most out of your course? I certainly wasn't that focused at 18.

Great read, thanks.

David Easson said...

Having decided to go to my home town university I stayed at home with mum and dad for my first year - big mistake. I really wanted all that freshers week flu and random shagging stuff. In second year I moved in with three friends off my course, two of which were going out with each other (and consequently would wake us up in the middle of the night with frighteningly loud sex. House-shuddering stuff. I was woken up, and I slept downstairs for god's sake!) The other housemate was a girl I had lusted after from day one of uni. So that was a difficult house to live in. One of the girls nearly burnt the house down trying to dry-fry a block of frozen spinach.

Ten years later, I got the girl.

Four years later I was single again.

I'm not sure what, if anything, I learnt, other than the fact that microwaved scrambled egg is not a patch on the real thing, but mum wasn't there to make it.

Simon said...

20 years ago since I was dropped off at the Mickleover halls of residence for my first year at Derbyshire College of HE (now poncified into the Universtiy of Derby) but still as clear as a bell.

I had just put my fate in the hands of the accommodation office to find me somewhere and they obliged with a this single room, the wrong side of town from where the course was taught. Others were given shared rooms or house-shares, which I'm not sure I could have coped with straight out of home. (A doddle for years two and three though). We had cleaners and there was a refectory on site that did evening meals, although I only went there once or twice, prefering to cremate my own chops.

As well as being opposite the kitchen for our floor I had somehow managed to swing a telly from my parents so my room became a bit of a hub. That was when I got hooked on "Neighbours" but did also have up to 40 people make an appearance during the evening a couple of weeks into term when the Berlin Wall came down.

beth said...

Because I was late to apply (bad exam results) I ended up renting a room in a family house - Mrs X had taken in students for years, and wanted to give up, but the college were desperate for accomodation and begged her to do 'just one more year'. AND I had to share a bedroom with a prim posh girl. It was awful. Ended up sleeping on a lot of floors that year.

Kolley Kibber said...

I'll chuck my ten bobsworth in then.

Halls of residence in the first year, which meant a great room in a lovely 1920s house in the middle of the university's botanical gardens. There were twelve of us in the house, all girls, and it was bliss, until we all fell out with each other in the second term.

A shared house in the second year. With a deeply unstable young woman who suprised me one night when I came home to find her squatting, rocking, in the corner of my room with a teddy bear.

Another shared house in the third year with four other girls and a hippy called Lucifer (not by his parents), who used to wear a cape and howl at the moon. He's a reiki 'healer' now.

So many fish fingers, so many hangovers, so many laughs, and quite a few nightmares...