By Dan Heard
I’ve always thought I’m quite good around new people. I mean, I think I come across pretty well. I’m not in-your-face from the beginning, but neither am I immediately searching for the exit as soon as I’ve muttered a few sentences in your direction. Overall, fairly affable guy, if I say so myself. Which I do. So coming to University, I was open to… being open, to meeting, and making, new friends. And the first, and earliest chance to do this was in Halls. So, I pitched up, first day, parents in tow, popped a box of Celebrations in our shoebox of a kitchen to welcome my new flatmates with a smile and mini-size Snickers.
And, I’ve got to be fair, I hit it off with everyone there quickly. Most of us were from Wales, spread across the country, while there were two from England. All guys. All looking to find our feet. And so, we got through Fresher’s. More than one of us had to be helped over the bridge by Cathays Station after going a bit too hard in the SU on the first Saturday (naming no names, they know who they are). Being catered, we’d go for food most evenings as a group. It was nice, sociable, and civil. Gradually, we all started doing our own things, working, studying for exams, making other friends, but remained close.
Then, all of a sudden, it was Second Year. No more Halls. No more catering. No more en suites (I loved my en suit. I’m fussy. Kept it damn clean too). This meant one thing- sharing a house. Five of us decided that, seeing as we’d gotten along fairly well so far, it would be a good idea to get one together. After much searching, we found one, minutes from where we were and from all our buildings. Everything was coming together nicely. As a certain Mr Clarkson would say, “what could possibly go wrong?”
As it turns out, quite a lot. For starters, everyone’s room was bigger, so it felt closer to what we had back home in a way, and therefore, people got territorial. Very territorial. ‘Don’t come in my room. Don’t even set foot over my doorway. I mean it!’ could be heard on numerous occasions. Sleeping patterns and habits that were treated as jokes in First Year were now becoming increasingly worrying for some. Nocturnal woodland creatures had better sleeping patterns. I once had friends from back home over for pre-drinks before a night out, during the exam period. My housemate had an exam the next day, so I agreed to keep the noise down. Turns out that was the least of his worries. He woke up the next day, at noon, checked his timetable, and saw that the exam was at 9 a.m., the previous day. Yeah. He passed the year, somehow.
And then there were the tantrums. Going days on end with certain housemates not speaking to each other. It was like a version of Big Brother, except there was nowhere near as much fun and all the drama was real. I’ll admit, certain things did improve. I was living with one guy who, the year before, had shown himself not to be the tidiest chap around. Plates and bowls would pile up on the side of the sink in the kitchen, unwashed and untouched for an eternity, more than a few with remnants of meals left behind in them. And after a while, a LONG while, we had some new forms of life growing on our draining board as a result. Not particularly wanting new kinds of mould and fungi inhabiting our cooking space, words were exchanged, and the mess was dealt with. Second year, this wasn’t an issue. Why? Oh, he just, you know, kept his dirty stuff in his room. To fester.
Cliques developed. Trips to ‘Spoons were organised without other housemates being invited. Going for a quick pint at the Woodville on a Sunday was never on the cards anymore. Eventually, and, again, like Mr Clarkson, there was even a fracas or two to deal with. Nothing serious. The odd crack to the stomach or in the side if one person annoyed the other too much. Mind, it was never passed off as just ‘banter’ either. Passive-aggressive post-it notes were plastered all over the fridge. If someone went home for the weekend, often, their food was thrown out, whether it was still in date or not. Communal areas, like the lounge, something we’d looked forward to sharing so much the previous year, became an extended bedroom for others.
Months passed slowly. Eventually, we all drew up plans for Third Year. Funnily enough, only two considered living together again. One made it clear he intended to get as far away from the rest of us as Cathays would allow. I’d kept in touch with the other guys from Halls, and, on being offered a room in their amazing new flat only a stone’s throw from where I was, jumped at the chance. A nicer room, a nicer place, with guys I had more in common with. Living in the house, when I wasn’t doing work, I’d try and spend as little time there as possible, going to the gym or for a run most days just to get away for a few hours. Looking back now, it’s actually quite sad.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my first two years in University. My course is excellent, and through it I’ve made a load of new, brilliant friends, as well as picking up skills and learning so much that will hopefully benefit me this year and in the future. Yet there’s that little tinge of disappointment that things didn’t work out better between the five of us in our house in the middle of student-Ville. If I had any advice to First Years who are (hopefully) reading this, it’s really get to know the guys in your Halls. They might be alright.