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Archive 2
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A Highway To Nowhere
Jess Wynne

Home: where the heart is. Or more importantly the CD collection. And if you are lucky, a criminally deranged but genuinely friendly housemate…

Sharing your home with likeminded individuals is currently extremely fashionable and is certainly economically practical. In particular, increasing numbers of professional people in their late twenties to early thirties are reliving their student days by cohabiting with friends or associates.

It was in the news recently that Marlon Brando and Jack Nicolson have moved in together. Speculators would no doubt assume the worst - drugs, womanising, repeated viewing of obscene movies (everything Brando has appeared in since Apocalypse Now with particular reference to The Island of Dr Moreau) and a general air of depravation. However, I prefer to envisage them emerging at lunchtime just in time to watch some really moronic TV, leading to a discussion of the obvious decline in the intelligence of the population, and then proceeding to mooch around the house cleverly avoiding anything that they were meant to be doing. At about five in the evening they rendezvous again in the sitting room to bemoan a complete inability to do anything useful and jointly agree that its too late now and they will achieve momentous things tomorrow. They sit watching Countdown, drinking tea, eating Frosties, whilst desperately attempting to ignore the sinister rustling of multitudes of unread movie scripts that encircle them like greedy vultures waiting to tear them limb from limb…

This cohabiting craze could definitely be dangerous. If there is one lesson I learnt from my university years then it is how to waste time. And it's an infectious disease; all your little excuses, your little ruses to fool yourself into thinking that you can't work - they float around the household mingling with your friend's versions and multiply… Soon you find yourselves rationally and passionately debating with each other why you should definately not go to a certain lecture or work on your dissertation, you find reasonable arguments suggesting that it could actually be health endangering. Surely any situation that allows a regression to such a time of collaborated self delusion should be prevented. Is this really a desirable way to live?

Home is of course crucial to the student. University less so, as most students are rarely there unless in the bar - if you are majoring in English and have fewer than ten hours of lectures a week how else could it be? Shared households all have common attributes that should be considered if it ever occurs to you to move in with a bunch of people you barely know.

The Furniture and Décor.
The house will be decorated and furnished by the landlord or lady with the alternatively-tasted in mind. Aesthetes with retro inclinations or mature students may appreciate the use of seventies' originals; the boldness of the orange and pink floral patterned curtains. Everyone else will at least conclude that the orange and brown swirly carpet hides a multitude of sins, which is useful as you will never get the damn hover to work. Preferably the sofa and armchair suite should be brick red, leather and a fire hazard. But don't panic - as your landlord will kindly explain, it is so old (pre WW2?) that he is not in any way liable if you set fire to it and it explodes. Be careful but don’t forget to demand he replace it whenever you see him (whenever you are overdue with the rent). He will ignore you but it's good practice in dealing with officious tyrants - it will be vital when you leave armed with your degree ready to apply for Jobseeker's Allowance.

The kitchen will be beautifully fitted out with a range of dangerous appliances all covered in large notices reading 'your landlord does not accept liability for first degree burns or loss of limbs'. The cooking utensils will amount to several hundred plastic cutlery handles, three forks, one knife and no teaspoons.

You and your housemates will make plans to turn decaying Victorian terrace to property of palatial splendour. All that anyone can suggest amounts to the addition of candles, cushions and throws. No one can work out with colours won't clash with the current décor - agree that the complete covering of everything in living room is necessary. No one has any money or if they have it is necessary to spend it on alcohol and drugs. Anything spare goes on food. So instead enliven living space with posters nicked from student bar (esp. anything that might indicate radical leanings) and bricks (popular Father Ted homage).

One student friend of mine lived entirely on Frosties and Milkyways. Another survived on pasta and crisps. A visiting student friend sent me off shopping with a list that included goat's cheese and fresh crusty bread rolls - she lasted one year at university and then had to find a job. Basically you must learn to economise on variety for two reasons. You will not have the facilities for gourmet meals and two you will not have time. As a student you will be too busy with the process of being just about to start an important piece of coursework, or you will be at the pub.

Not in your garden of course (you won't have one) but roaming freely around the house. We shared our home with woodlice, some of which were much more intellectually challenging than anyone on the Cultural and Media Studies course so it wasn't a problem. A friend, however, had a sofa crawling with rats.

Common Varieties of Housemates
Miss Psychotic, Should be Institutionalised: A scary one this and a clear example of the 'you never know someone to you live with them' theory. In my second year I shared with someone who certainly wasn't called Liz who was…well a little unusual. I won't go into the details but credit card fraud, breaking and entering, stalking and listening to soft rock music were all involved. But apart from that she was lovely.

Mr Irritating, Sexist, Mummy's boy. Yes Robin I'm talking about you.

Miss Melodramatic, the World Revolves around her Emotional Dilemmas. Always balancing over a precipice of disaster. Possible manic-depressive. Sleeping with the wrong people but nevertheless having more sex than you. If you have a problem then she has a crisis. Leaves everything to last minute, rarely gets out of bed and just expects to copy all of your notes. Has frightening tendency to invite complete strangers (who are completely strange) home after a night out; then sober up and beg you to help her remove them. Interrupts your viewing of Neighbours with nonsensical ramblings about Aztec patterns, jiggly feet and colourful rippling carpets. Plays music loudly all night and complains relentlessly about insomnia.

And worst of all…

Miss Incredibly Organised, Wrote her Dissertation Months before the Deadline.
Throw her out. She is a morale hazard. Ask Liz if she has any friends leaving prison who are searching for somewhere to stay.

Your household and the people within it is huge part of the so-called best years of your life. But the major problem, as far as I can see, is that these really are your halcyon days, it doesn't get any better. I miss the freedom of dancing round the living room, the camaraderie of students undergoing an essay all-nighter - accepted procedure being write 200 words, go make cup of tea, write 200 words, go and see how housemates are doing, all go to kitchen - start on coffee, write 200 words…Those bizarre late night conversations, the inane trivia. University life was a rave, a riot, it was just so…relaxing. Reality is too hectic and it's stretching out ahead of me with all the grey tedium of the M4, nothing but an occasional service station to relieve the monotony for decades to come. And as I remain stuck in reverse watching everyone else zoom past me I am reminded that THIS IS THE SORT of stupid metaphor for life that is indicative of my student days. The word ‘indicative’is also highly indicative of those blissful times - add 'elucidate', 'it can be argued that' and 'X is a complex character' and you’ve got the gist of my essays for the last five years. But I was so 'succinct' and 'coherent' that no one noticed I was writing the same rubbish for every subject. Ha!

But unfortunately an ability to structure essays and type whilst asleep or inebriated doesn't get you very far in the real world. University doesn't prepare you for life it prepares you for avoiding it. It’s an alternative reality for those intent on living in the realm of fantasy with the funds to achieve it. Should be perfect for Nicolson and Brando then.

©Jess Wynne

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