In which I am a crumbly cheddar.

Printed 15/10/08

Third year is here! That’s an insincere exclamation mark, but I’m hoping if I use it enough the enthusiasm might stick. Third year, third year, third year! Never, under any circumstances, to be referred to as ‘final year’. That’s far too, er, final. And makes me think of finals. Possibly with an accompanying facial twitch. So, third year! Pip pip!

Obviously it isn’t something to feel glum about, as students, like leather shoes and Joan Rivers’ face, grow better with age (important to note: the former get looser and the latter gets tighter. Students do both, morally then financially). Yes, I’m choosing to think of third year as a slab of cheese, maybe Cathedral City, which has been gradually maturing over the last 24 months to reach the perfect stage of rich, crumbly flavour once we’re fully equipped to appreciate its delicate nuances. Freshers can make do with Babybell and Dairylea Dunkers. Save the good fromage for us old-timers, please.

Nothing makes you feel more at-home in your student slippers than summoning your little brother to the phone for his pre-uni pep talk. I leaned back in my armchair, stroked my beard, puffed on a metaphorical pipe of wisdom and smiled a twinkly smile like the Werther’s Originals granddad, sifting through the vast sands of my acquired knowledge for a nugget of gold to give the youngster. Eventually I produced the following: “Don’t make friends with losers. You’ll still be shaking them off in two years time*. And don’t go to any event that requires you to wear school uniform. You are better than that.”

Handing the crown down to Bravo no.2 was a sombre experience. I felt a certain affinity with Bruce Forsyth, handing the Generation Game over for Jim Davidson to trample all over – not to suggest that in 60 years time I will be a doddery national dancing treasure while the brother peddles bigoted smut to pensioners on Southend Pier, but you get the gist. I used to drink six cups of black coffee a day, and now I get my morning kicks from Berocca. The times, they are a-changing.

Sensing that there’s an unwritten rule somewhere about people over 21 living with stolen road signs as wall decoration, we’ve given the house a third-year makeover. Out with the bits of broken bus stop, in with fresh flowers (albeit in makeshift pint-glass vases). Away went the kitchen mould farm, maintained in case one day we should stumble across a cure for cancer in some month-old kebab rind, and in its place a shelf of intellectual books for breakfast-time perusal (current selection: A Brief History of Time; The Famous Five go up a Hill Again; Bettaware Autumn ’08). We’re mere steps away from using coasters. It’s very exciting.

Worrying though, was the realisation that while we’ve amassed enormous amounts of extra-curricular wisdom, not to mention 54 local takeaway menus and 17 toothbrushes between five people, we haven’t learnt very much about very much at all to do with academia. When I was a child I would watch University Challenge and think “Wow. This is a superior calibre of human. When I am at university, I too will have reached this higher plane and know things about stuff. I’ll know what type of object is the end product of a star of less than 4 solar masses, and what word is used in a planned economy to describe the required output and is used elsewhere to describe a maximum allocation, and which rank in the army is equivalent to the naval rank of commodore, and the name of the last opera written by Mozart. I’ll know all of this, because that’s what university does.” Then I would get one answer right, maybe two on an amazingly jammy day, and look forward to the day when I knew everything.

But of course the day never came. After two years and £6000-worth of quality education, I still only get one answer right, usually the arbitrary one about pop music or Coronation Street chucked in to wobble the geeks off their pedestals. Where do they FIND those contestants? I will happily swear right now that not a single person I know at uni could answer: the term 'enriched uranium' refers to an increase in the proportion of which isotope of uranium to natural uranium for use in a nuclear reactor or weapon?, and I don’t think that makes them any less worthy as people.

Anyway, we’ve still got a year to work on it. By which point we’ll be a veiny old stilton, with a few more intellectual books on the breakfast bookshelf. Third year, third year, third year!!

*Don’t worry, I’m not talking about you. Or you. Possibly you, but that’s all water under the bridge now.