Tag: Exeter University

My 18-year-old self’s comfort objects

I seem to be in the nostalgia and reminiscing zone at the moment. Perhaps it is age. Yesterday I was reminiscing about secondary school and today, it is the turn of university.

Hope Hall, Exeter University

Hope Hall, Exeter University (where I watched two episodes of Brookside)

It occurred to me earlier today that it is, give or take the odd day, 25 years since I arrived at the University of Exeter (probably the best university in the world, as the car sticker says) as an excited and nervous fresher. My 18-year-old niece has just started her Freshers’ Week at Loughborough University (incidentally, Freshers’ Week in 2015 is a very different beast to what it was in 1990 but that is another blog entry). I am also about to experience Freshers’ Week as I am on the cusp of starting Year 3 of a BA (Hons) degree at the University of Wolverhampton (not sure I will be out drinking and dancing until 2am this time, I might just have half a pint somewhere). So all these things combined: my niece, my own impending studies, and a major anniversary since my first attempt at studies (I scraped a 2:1) have got me thinking back.

Me at university, at the end

Me at university, at the end

My weird thought relates to ‘things’. I am a big fan of ‘things’. Most of my art practice of recent months has centered on objects or things. Many of my weird thoughts and other blog entries are about ‘things’. I read a lot of books about ‘things’ and our relationship with such things. In fact, books are one of my own ‘things’. We need things in our lives. Things bring us comfort. We surround ourselves with the things we love and those things might not necessarily be the sort of ‘things’ normally regarded as comforting things. Without our things, anxiety and depression ensues. We may kid ourselves that we could live without things so long as we had health and family. Nope, not true. We’d fall into a well of loneliness without our things.

One of my favourite things

One of my favourite things

My current must-have things are: a black furry blanket purchased half price in Tescos, my current book, my sketch pad, real coffee, a black pen, a cushion (any cushion but preferably a velvet one), my children and husband (yes, people can be things), my cat and my hula hoop. These things are very different to the things my 18-year-old fresher self needed to have close by.

My 18-year-old things were: Brookside, my best friend Jane (sorry, Jane, for describing you as a thing), a duvet, tea, my favourite Top Shop trousers, my cat Crackers and my mixed tapes.

Can Brookside be a thing?

Can Brookside be a thing?

When I arrived at Exeter (a long way from home), I couldn’t take all my things with me. I certainly couldn’t take my cat Crackers and my best friend Jane. The others, I could just about manage. I sneaked a small black-and-white TV into halls but not having a license I only ever watched it under my bed when my two roommates were out. I think I only manged about two episodes of Brookside during the first term. So with just a duvet, my Top Shop trousers and my mixed tapes, I was a bit lost. I didn’t have my things with me, or at least not all of them. However, as time passed I adapted and found new things to love: my new friends, the library and books.

Yes, there was even an Exeter University BT phonecard

Yes, there was even an Exeter University BT phonecard

I wonder what my niece’s Freshers’ Week and beyond ‘things’ are? Perhaps the only correlation with my list of essential objects would be the duvet and feline company. I shall ask her. I suspect ‘phone’ or ‘laptop’ would feature in the 2015 student’s list.

A 'can't live without' thing

A ‘can’t live without’ thing

Nobody can escape nostalgia, however hard they try

This weird thought actually occurred to me three weeks ago but I haven’t had a moment spare since then in which to share my weird thought, that is until now.

Three weeks ago I joined my sister and niece on a trip to Exeter University for the open day for prospective students.

This is what Exeter University campus looks like now

This is what Exeter University campus looks like now

My niece is considering Exeter. She is in the upper sixth (Year 13 in new money). I am a former student of that University so she was happy for me to join her and my sister on the open day. As I had been there 1990-1994 I was eager to go with her and visit the city I had lived in for three years of my life.  Living quite a long way from Exeter now, I don’t get many chances to visit.

Before going, I hadn’t quite expected to feel as much emotion as I did at seeing the University grounds. I had made some visits to parts of the University since leaving but only for short periods, usually en route from the seaside resorts of Devon to back home. This was the first time in twenty years I’d had the chance to walk all over campus, mingle with people of student age, visit the shop, smell the library (yes, it really does smell the same), wander around halls of residence dwellings and walk up the hill to the gym.

Me in 1990 (Can you spot Radio 5's Russell Fuller in the background?)

Me in 1990 (Can you spot Radio 5’s Russell Fuller in the background?)

When I was young, as most people when they are young, I thought nostalgia was a little bit sad in the pathetic sense. To me back then, nostalgia meant parents and friends’ parents putting on records from the 1960s and looking wistfully into each other’s eyes, perhaps doing a little bit of embarrassing dancing around the sitting room. It was eye-rollingly cringey. Somehow, I, along with my contemporaries, thought I’d be immune to nostalgia. Then a few years passed. I got a proper job, got married, had children and sprouted a few grey hairs. The 1990s turned into the new century, and time didn’t stop there. It kept going. Suddenly, I found myself in the year 2014.

This is what nostalgia makes me think of: parents dancing

This is what nostalgia makes me think of: parents dancing

Nostalgia has finally caught up with me now at the age of forty-two. Perhaps at a certain age this is inevitable. I am starting to think that this is true.

Walking around the main campus at Exeter evoked strong memories of my time as a student there: Friday Night Lemmy, cider in plastic pint cups, coffee in DH, withdrawing £5 from the Midland Bank machine, walking up cardiac hill and mutant baked beans in Hope Hall. Visiting the accommodation block I stayed in during my final year, I turned into gibbering sad old almost-middle-aged wreck. Meandering from the main campus to the house I lived in for my first year brought forth the strongest memories of all. As I did that walk, as a forty-something year old with three children, I saw the eighteen-year-old me walking with dread, clutching my folder, to the weekly mathematics for economists lecture, hoping that there might be a letter from my best friend in the pigeon hole in the main dining hall waiting for me.

Me and three handsome young men eating huge pizzas

Me and three handsome young men eating huge pizzas

I told almost everyone we came across at that open day: ‘I came to Exeter in the early 1990s!’ I would have thought me very sad twenty years ago. I knew I was being sad yet I couldn’t stop myself, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I saw myself through my niece’s seventeen-year-old eyes and I cringed.

Just before we left, I bought an Exeter University lanyard, an Exeter University mug and an Exeter University bag. I am sad and I don’t care. I like nostalgia.

My Exeter souvenirs

My Exeter souvenirs

Now time to put on some Stone Roses, an old pair of DMs and dance around the sitting room. Perhaps my three children will be suitably embarrassed, thinking that they are immune to nostalgia too.

These guys were very present during my university days

These guys were very present during my university days