1. Being certain
Remember when everything – from politics to ethics to morality – was crystal clear? Me too. I was 19, decked in retro bell-bottoms and hippy sheepskin, and fully stoked by the youthful fire in my belly. On this limited basis, obviously I knew with absolute certainty that large corporations, the main political parties and religion were all thoroughly evil and to be avoided.
Now as I sit here typing, a good 20 years on, scoffing yet another of the global brand name chocolate bars I can’t seem to give up, disgusted by a series of political scandals, and confused about how to simultaneously protect civil liberties and counter extremism, I can see that such things are about as clear as mud. I miss feeling inspired, moved to protest and certain of what I felt the way I did as a student.
2. Being slim
Subsisting on cigarettes, watery beer and the odd plate of cheesy chips, combined with nine hours of nightclub aerobercising a week, and walking everywhere due to a chronic lack of funds, meant I was a fairly steady size 8 through the University years.
Irritatingly, in my mind back then, I was a whale, and as a result, all the photos I have of that time show me with a top tied around my (tiny) waist to disguise my *huge* bum. Fast-forward twenty years and two kids and it’s likely I would murder to have that bum back. Youth is wasted on the young!
3. Being cool
If you saw me today in my regulation mum leggings and Ugg boots, or rocking my super-sensible rolls-into-a-bag ‘Rain Poncho’, you probably wouldn’t believe it, but, yes, honestly, back in the day at University I was cool. I went through a phase in the first year of wearing vest tops and baggy hip-hop pants (think All Saints please, and not MC Hammer!), I went to cool clubs and threw some shapes with the best of ’em. I once had my picture taken with Mark Lamarr of ‘The Word’ fame. Mark Lamarr, people!! Now I just mosey on down to a Tesco a lot to buy milk and nappies. Mark’s probably hiding there too. No one’s seen him doing anything cool or exciting in years either. Sigh.
4. Being fearless
From bungee jumping, to travelling South America and New Zealand, to upping sticks and moving to Sydney, I look back at my younger self with awe and wonder….it was great, and my Bucket List ‘check off’ is half-way respectable, in no small part thanks to the fearlessness of my University years.
But really, let’s be honest, what on earth was I thinking?! Accidents can happen! Air travel is risky! Travelling is risky! Going to the pub down the road after 9pm is risky! Thank God I did that stuff then because there’s no way I’d do it now. No, far better to stay home, PJs on, watching TV with a nice, hot mug of tea. Ahhhhh!
5. Things being new
I grew up in a small town so University was the first time I’d experienced life in a bustling city. Even a shopping trip, to a city centre with malls and department stores, felt new and exhilarating, never mind the rest of the University experience – first times out without a parental curfew to break, staying up ’til dawn talking about the meaning of life as though you’d unlocked the secrets of the universe, cooking real food from scratch, drinking wine rather than pints, or discovering new bands and types of music that – so it seemed then – changed my life. The world was still a giant oyster to be prised open and rewarded by.
6. Falling in love
Maybe it was all the hormones coupled with a desire to avoid hitting the books but I seemed to fall madly in love (and then out of it) every other month at University. I suspect I’d never come across such a diverse and compelling group of people before; the dashing Drama Barn devotee who wore all black and quoted literature, the poetic Goth, the dreadlocked drummer, the University kickboxing champ, the geeks and the jocks, I loved them all at one time or other. It was a rare and wonderful thing to be surrounded by so many richly varied, passionate people, all of us trying to find out who we were and where we wanted to be.
7. Having a cleaner
Ah, halls of residence, how easy we had it then! On campus, everything was polished and picked up after by the cleaning staff. That communal kitchen food fight? Bad dream. The pile of washing up you left in the sink? Miraculously gone. The many general hygiene failures? Never happened. Or at least, that’s how our amazing crew of campus cleaners made it seem. Legends, the lot of them.
8. Having time for music
The good old days of Top of the Pops, knowing who was at Number 1, going record shopping, organising your (oh so cutting edge) CD collection by genre and alphabetically, taping the Top 10, making mix tapes for people you wanted to impress with your extensive knowledge of music…what the hell happened?! I’ll tell you what happened, you graduated, started working 9 to 5 (and the rest) and promptly turned in to one of those people who complain that modern stuff is ‘just noise’ and ‘real music is dead’. Move over Mum and Dad with your Nana Mouskouri folk albums and ‘Greatest Ballads’ compilations, I’m nipping at your geriatric heels.
9. Having lie-ins
In the second year at University I only had a couple of seminars a week and took to late nights and long lie-ins with gusto. I remember frequently only waking up at lunchtime to watch Home & Away and then Neighbour’s in bed, before dozing off and doing the same thing again with the afternoon showings from 5pm. Then I’d get up, shower, get dressed and head out again.
These days I have two un-snoozable alarm clocks that I can’t turn down the volume on, switch off or bin, in the shape of my two and five year olds. Oh to have a lie in! Where my personal ambitions may be humbler now than they were at 21, that hasn’t made them any more achievable! I think I’d gladly chew off my right arm if it meant I could sleep in for a few weeks.
10. Having icons
We’ve all read the headlines, 2016 has certainly not been what you’d call ‘a vintage year’ with so many legends taking a final bow, from David Bowie, to Victoria Wood, to Prince, the icons of my youth are fast disappearing, and with them my own sense of inspiration and immortality, something I closely associate with the hope and aspirations of University.
You know you’re old when you’re running out of people to look up to. All I can say is thank goodness that though great artists may die, great art never does… Oh and also, for IKEA, stretch fabric and ‘over 30s’ nights. Otherwise leaving university and ageing would be, frankly, unbearable!