Sheffield: The First 24 Hours – 21 September 2015
It’s dawn on the morning after the night before. Around me, my new flatmates are yet to wake from their first-night Freshers’ slumbers. An idea of their small-hours antics can be discerned from the evidence left in the kitchen-cum-living-space: a toppled Jenga tower, a greasy pizza-tray, and bottles (all now, of course, empty) strewn across the room. But I, in my own cosy corner of the vast Endcliffe student accommodation village, am awake and raring to go.
Dim and distant seems the memory of the Oxfordshire campsite where, at seven-minutes-to-eight one August morn last year, my phone’s web-browser clicked through to the Ucas Track page to reveal my application to the University of Sheffield had been successful. In just a few words, the online confirmation set in train the next step in a long journey to here — and beyond.
My chosen course, Journalism Studies, is one that genuinely excites me. It’s it which is why I’m here. The boozers can booze if they want to, but I’ve come chiefly for the degree. Naturally, I also want to get stuck in with some of the clubs and activities which are on offer, and I hope that, through these, I’ll make new friends who share similar interests.
I arrived in this city at half-past-nine yesterday (Sunday) morning. It would have been earlier, but a half-marathon in Chesterfield meant we got stuck navigating the town’s largely locked-down road network. Although I’d missed the end of my scheduled key-collection time-slot by half-an-hour, the friendly staff were warm and welcoming. The arrivals team worked like a well-oiled machine: swift and effective appeared the military operation of moving in 5,000 first-years across the city (3,000 in Endcliffe alone) over the course of the weekend.
Whilst I signed for the keys to my new room, Mum and Dad were being directed to my block, where they then began unpacking the contents of the heavily-laden car. Despite their best efforts – and those of the extremely helpful staff – it was nearly ten minutes until it was all unloaded. On the drive up to Sheffield, Dad had expressed his premonition that, like my two siblings before me, my room would be on a top floor. He was right. Happily, though, the blocks are all fitted with lifts, so having piled as many of my things as possible in with me, I rode up and began moving it all into my room.
With it being quite early in the day, I felt fortunate that few fellow students would see my embarrassingly large amount of ‘stuff’. Just one of my flatmates had already arrived, and her father put me at ease: “You think you‘ve brought a lot?”, he said, “We had to bring two cars!”.
Sadly, there was little time to talk. A little after 9:45am, Mum wheeled the last lot in through the door and Dad, having just parked the car, joined the two of us in the room. He suggested hot-footing it to St Mark’s – the nearby church which he and his late parents attended when they moved to Sheffield in the 1970s – as we’d be just in time for their ten o’clock eucharist.
Nearing the building (me half out-of-breath from the intense activity of the last twenty minutes) it suddenly occurred to Dad that this was probably the weekend of the church’s parish holiday. “There might be a sign on the door”, he warned, “saying ‘Sorry. No service today.'”.
Luckily, the notice pinned to the door was the exact opposite – ‘CHURCH OPEN’ – so we took our seats in a pew as the organ piped up the opening bars of All People That on Earth do Dwell. Dad was indeed right, however, about the away-weekend; during the Peace, a sidesperson, Arthur, turned around and apologised for the “fairly absent congregation”. “They’ve gone to Swanwick, leaving just the few of us to ‘hold the fort’.” (To be honest, the nave didn’t strike me as being particularly poor on churchgoers, and anyway, I greatly enjoyed the resultant opportunity to talk to many of the parishioners after the service.)
Once back at the flat, Mum and I began the process of unpacking the crates of kitchenwares, bags of bed-linen, and suitcases of clothes which I had brought with me. Meanwhile, Dad made some coffee in the kitchen, which he brought through just as the room was nearly sorted. Over a slice of the homemade cake Mum had provided, we marvelled at how surprisingly spacious my new home was. My earlier worries about fitting everything in suddenly seemed unfounded.
With the plates and mugs washed and put away, we walked down into the city centre, armed with a list of the last few things I needed to get. Among them: some plastic wallets, a doorstop, and a pair of slippers. In John Lewis we bought a shower-mat for my en-suite wetroom, before heading upstairs to The Place To Eat for tea.
I made sure to enjoy the Bank of Mum and Dad while it was around. As we made our way back up the hill to Endcliffe, we stopped at a supermarket where I got them to buy me enough food to get me started this week. The cooking is something I am a little bit weary about, but only because I haven’t really had much opportunity (read: need) to dabble over a hot stove until now. Nonetheless, now there is no other option, I’m looking forward to teaching myself how to plan and prepare filling, satisfying meals. Most especially, I can’t wait to cook myself the steak and chips we purchased — not least because I doubt that I myself will be buying such luxuries as the term goes on, when my bank balance begins to dip.
By the time we were back at the flat, almost all of my neighbours had moved in. As we helped one Maths student unpack, already there was talk of plans for the night ahead. One girl had booked a ticket in advance for a by now sold-out event, leaving the rest of us to wonder we might go instead.
Frankly, I favoured the idea of going straight to sleep. After an early start, a lot of lifting, and my first taste of the hill-walking which will doubtless become a staple of my time here, I was exhausted. Add to all that my nap-lack over recent days (not out of nerves or anxiety, but rather through my trademark tardiness: I’d left all of my preparations until the last-minute) and the prospect of a busy week ahead, my freshly-made bed seemed extremely tempting.
Predictably, everyone else had other ideas.
And so, not long after my parents had gone, the drinking began. Wisely, I tucked myself out of the way for quite a while — caught in the middle of a difficult dilemma. Refusing to go out could risk alienating myself already from the rest of the group, but a ‘night on the tiles’ would destroy my proud reputation for having never actually been drunk. Merry, yes. But never intoxicated.
Whilst the others enjoyed card-games – whereby, as far as I could work out, regardless of the suit or value drawn everybody took a drink – I read through some of the paperwork I had neglected in the pre-church morning haste. I rang Kristen and then compiled a list of things I need Jake to bring up when he comes tomorrow (Tuesday). Later into the evening, one of my neighbours knocked on my door asking if I wanted to pre-book a ticket through him for the Corporation UV party. At only £5, I felt it was probably worth it as a diplomatic exercise, so I could at least stay a part of the group.
The taxis arrived at midnight and the nine of us headed out to the nightclub. As someone from a family which rarely (if ever) uses cabs, I found myself utterly transfixed by the red LED display of the fare-meter. Ever-increasing, the cost is balanced against one’s unwillingness to walk. Yet one is effectively trapped: the destination has been pre-agreed with the driver, and one is left to sit back and hope that he takes the most direct route, and that the traffic-lights along the Fulwood Road are kind.
The length of the queue to get in to the venue was quite bewildering. It went against all logic. It was late and it was cold, but still hundreds were keen to stand around outside for an hour, in return for the privilege of being let in to a sweaty, sticky, eardrum-shattering room.
As we anticipated the ‘excitement’ in store, wandering hands were rightly slapped away by self-respecting girls, whilst bravado-brandishing boys boasted tales of past drunken debauchery. On the other side of the road, a man attended to his collapsed and unresponsive friend, obviously awaiting the arrival of further help. One could see the tired faces of the paramedics who soon turned up — likely, this was their umpteenth callout to a victim of the bottle within the space of a few long hours. With the unprejudiced care for which the NHS can be relied upon, the two medics lifted the man onto a trolley and then wheeled him into the ambulance, something that (judging by the size of him) took rather a lot of the women’s strength. I was nearly overcome with blind rage when the queueing clubbers began cheering… not for these two weathered heroes of the war zone, but rather for the idiotic man who’d slurped himself silly. “TROO‑PER! TROO‑PER!…”, they chanted: endlessly, shamelessly, and insensitively.
By 1:30am, the nine of us had finally made it in through the doors, but the waiting had rather taken its toll on my flatmates’ bladders. As one body, we filed through to the lavatories (on the other side of the dance floor), but the queue for these – combined with the general uncleanliness of them – kept me well away. Instead, I was offered a drink at the bar: a ‘quad-vod’, as it was titled. I understand that the so-called Corp club is renowned for this cheap mix of four vodka shots, so felt I ought to at least enter into the, um, spirit of the place. Obviously, the drink is so diluted with mixer that one has no idea what one’s drinking — it just keeps you idly drunk for long enough to excuse the club’s sloshy floor.
I, though, was not drunk. I was tired and I was bored. It was well past my bedtime and therefore time to leave.
No way was I paying for a cab home, mind. To keep warm, I summoned up enough energy to jog the mile-and-a-half back to Endcliffe: the faster I ran, the quicker I’d be in bed.
Pacing past straggling sots and exhausted elbow-heads, every step was a step closer to home. Thwarted only by my temporary misunderstanding of the key-fob system which unlocks the block’s front-door, I soon realised my mistake and made it safely upstairs. I was pleased I’d gone out – so that I could at least say I’d done a Freshers’ night out – but even more pleased to be wrapped up beneath my duvet.
And that’s where I stayed until getting up this morning, when I awoke to find the mess next door. Between my going-to-bed and my getting-up, someone must have pinched my kitchen-roll from my (unlockable) cupboard, used half of it, and abandoned the rest on one of the sofas. The thieving tyke!
I accept, though, that this is ‘all part of the experience’; it just happens not to be the bit I’m most keen about. Far more interesting to me is what my fellow Journalism students and I will be studying over the next three years. To find out, there’s an hour-long introductory session after lunch. I can’t wait to get started!
A year on from bidding my classmates and friends farewell, it’s time – at last – for my own university adventure to begin.