If I could squeeze myself back into my thinner, wealthier and healthier eighteen year old fresher body, on that very first day, of that very first term, I’d tell myself one thing; breathe.
I recall vividly that first summer before beginning university, and my mother relentlessly cutting out articles from magazines and newspapers that detailed ‘university essentials’, like printers, and potted plants and ‘proper’ writing pens. I wish I could shake her, and me, and tell both of us that I will not ever, ever need a pen that wasn’t free, and remind us that it will be hard enough to keep me alive, whether I own a pot plant or not.
There was no definitive article published in a broadsheet newspaper that warned me that I wouldn’t need photographs of my family, as all of their names would be forgotten by November, and nobody told me that you absolutely never need to buy a wok. They should have told us: Don’t bring your favourite mugs to uni, your housemates will smash them all before Christmas. Don’t bring your sacred high school football trophies to uni, your housemates will smash them before Christmas. And absolutely don’t bring your girlfriend to uni, because your housemates will smash them before Christmas.
What nobody tells you though, is that you do need kitchen roll (loads of it) and toilet roll (loads of it), and dry shampoo (loads of it). Make sure your mum buys you an eighteen-pack of all of this before you go, and respect and treasure them with all your life. There is no problem in university that cannot be fixed with toilet roll, kitchen roll and dry shampoo.
I would warn myself that, despite quickly realising that human beings need essentially, absolutely nothing to comfortably survive, you will acquire a truckload of shit over the next three years. You’ll have drawers that are literally just full of shit. Branded pens, bottle openers, event lanyards, 2p coins, lighters, empty food packets and enough phone cases and Poundland iPhone chargers to open up your own dodgy phone accessory store. You will keep all of this junk, because most of it was free. And if university teaches you anything, it is that you always take free stuff. Always. No matter how many private and personal details you have to give out to attain it.
I wish I could climb into the car with eighteen year old me, and unpack all the absolutely useless junk I thought it necessary to bring to university in first year. I’d packed my sixth form ball dress, bless me. ‘Honey, the Fresher’s ball is not a real ball’, I’d tell us all. Do not wear a dress to the Fresher’s ball. Do not wear a suit. Unless you want to have a large group of boys circling around you, pointing at you and chanting ‘SUIT BOY, SUIT BOY, SUIT BOY!!!!!!’ in the Lash, every Wednesday, for the next three years, Do. Not. Wear. A. Suit.
You will have a ‘proper’ ball, eventually, Helena. You won’t go in first year, because you won’t have the bollocks. Then, in second year, you’ll be underdressed, get too drunk, embarrass yourself and will vomit before midnight. Finally, in third year you’ll have a good time. But, as is life, by the time you finally find the people on your course that you like and finally work out how to write a semi decent essay and finally know how to make a boiled egg that is just the right amount of runny, it is time to leave university forever.
I wish I could tell myself to worry less about making friends. You will not know in the first few weeks of university which friends are good for life and which are only good until the end of Freshers. You don’t need to try and work it out. For the first time in your short life you have the opportunity to reinvent, to start again, to figure out who you really are without the constraints of your previous life to shackle you. It takes time to work out who you are, and even longer to work out the kind of people you want to be friends with.
I’d tell myself to worry more about doing washing. Little did I know I’d find myself sneaking out of halls in the middle of the night, like some crazy duvet thief, in a desperate attempt to bagsy a washing machine for a few hours without the risk of somebody taking out my freshly washed clothes and dumping them in a pile on the sticky, dirty floor.
I would assure younger me that salvation would come in the body of a university hoodie. A hoodie with CARDIFF UNIVERSITY emblazoned over the front of it, which you will come to wear every day for the next three years. It will not need to be washed. It will soak up stains and spills like a dirty, magical sponge and no matter how sweaty and gross it will get, it somehow will never be unwearable.
I’d warn myself about the inherent dangers of university. I’d teach myself that there is nothing in life more ungodly and evil than club reps. They will come to your door, Helena and You. Must. Not. Let. Them. In. Once you have let them into your safe place, they will infiltrate you with lies and dishonesties about their club which is ‘selling out’ and ‘down to the last 50 tickets’. If tickets were selling they would not be at your door. If tickets were selling they would not be at your door. If tickets were selling they would not be at your door. Repeat this to yourself until it sinks in. You must forcefully say no thank you and shut the door. Even if they are hot. Especially if they are hot. Do not worry about their feelings. They are filthy, soulless liars and are dead inside anyway.
I wish I could tell myself to enjoy and savour and absorb each moment just a little more. I’d spend more time enjoying the blossoms in the park in the spring, and appreciating those little ducks that hang out by Bute building for absolutely no reason. I would hang out more in the library, even if it was just to use Facebook, and venture further than the SU for more of my nights out. I’d worry less about attending all of my lectures in first year, and worry more about attending all of my lectures in third year.
All too quickly it is over, and we become graduates, we get jobs, and in time, we’ll all eventually work out ‘adulthood’, and what it means to grow up. University is the vodka shot version of life. Short, sharp, delicious, revolting, shocking and numbing all in equal measures. The rest of life is our Long Island Iced Tea. We have time to sip it a little slower, and digest it properly and decide how much ice we like and whether we want to drink it with or without a straw. But, ultimately, our stomachs are settled and our liver is ready, because we had our vodka shot warm up.
No doubt we’ll look back on our university decisions with horror and disapproval, but overwhelmingly with pride and envy at how reckless and young and wild we were able to be. Thank you Cardiff University, and farewell to the best three years of my life, it’s been a blast.