St. Andrew's: A Quiet Life

I visited St. Andrew’s yesterday for the first time. “Why?!” you ask. Well partly to see an old friend, partly out of curiosity, but mainly because I was driving from Aberdeen to Leeds and so St. Andrew’s made a pleasant detour. What I found was a beautiful little town by the sea, with cobbled streets, a shop that sold only Christmas tree decorations, and posh boys who wore multiple scarves and held hands with their jodhpur-clad giddy-up girlfriends. No surprise really. We all know that St. Andrew’s is the picturesque university town of princes and Polo Ralph Lauren addicts (I’ve never understood why English gentry buy an American imitation of English gentry fashion instead of just raiding their Grandmother’s attic). But visiting St. A in the flesh is an entirely different experience. It is so claustrophobic and old-fashioned that I felt like walking into a thatched pub and screaming. St. A truly is Hogwarts without the magic. As I marched down the fairy-lit streets with my heavy-duty leather jacket and my platinum blond hair, I soon became accustomed to the double-take stares from rosy-cheeked redheads and groups of cherub-like academics in rugby kits. I realised what was bugging me (apart from all the people eye-buggering me)… St. A feels like school. The students even lurk around outside Tesco looking for an alcohol supplier! (N.B. – Scottish kids go to uni aged 17) St. A is a haven for those who cannot let go of that boarding school intimacy, endless mugs of tea and that innocent denial that somewhere, just possibly, there is a world. A world where people are poor, where people are hurt, where there are no affectionate choir masters or lusty matrons, just the police, bus drivers and A&E. St. A is like a haunting post-apocalypse world in which survivors recreated society using some salvaged Enid Blyton books as a guide. I drank cider in a startlingly small and low-ceilinged pub called The Raisin, which boys on the street recommended as “pretty buzzing” on a Tuesday night. We’d already walked out of another “buzzing” establishment called The Vic, which looked like a National Trust attraction’s coffee shop. Nevermind fit for a king, anyone who'd ever consumed so much as one vegetable in their childhood would never be able to fit in there. A conundrum, considering most of the boys in there looked like assorted vegetables and letted out their own gardens as farmland back home. It's something to do with smoking at a young age I feel. The dozen or so students inside The Raisin quite obviously knew I was no local, and one even plucked up the courage to ask me at the bar where I had come from. “Leeds” I replied. “Oh, yeah, it’s pretty cool there isn’t it?” he offers. “Yes” I reply “It’s a place.” Chatting later to a girl called Hattie, I mentioned the Sugababes line-up changes, after all HEAT magazine is a global language right, but no, not in St. A. People read the Jack Wills handbook, Tatler and York Notes. As I left The Raisin I noted a sign on the door that said “Vidi, Vici, Veni” …. A joke for Classics students… It was time to find the car. By all means, St. A is a lovely little place, where girls can bake tarts and take up the clarinet, where boys who didn’t make their school rugby team can finally take it up the (okay – immature sorry). Some people must relish the ‘everyone knows everyone’ atmosphere of St. A. The lovely ‘no one can hear you scream’ vibe. If I’d gone to a rough comprehensive in Felixstowe, then yeah, I can imagine how St. A must be one gorgeously soothing four-year massage, a sanctuary of hot chocolate and corduroys. But if I’d gone to study there myself, instead of Leeds University, there is no knowing what would have happened to me. Probably one of the following: 1) I would have packed in my dreams, suppressed my creativity, bought a Jack Wills tracksuit and prepared for a lovely life of marriages, mortgages, an illicit affair with my best man and then death by JCB. 2) I would have become an insane recluse and spent the nights dressed in a long white dress scrawling poetry around the walls of my room with pig’s blood. 3) I would have torn the place down, become the Aggy Deyn of St. A, thrown massively controversial beach parties and become the town’s number 1 drug dealer. 4) I would have dedicated my life to seducing people too polite to say no, knocking various Sebs and Quentins out on whiskey, pretending I own an estate somewhere and then making pathetic love to them all night under their duvets whilst trying to ignore the name labels on their socks. 5) I would have tied a rock to my ankle and walked slowly into the sea, looking back to catch one last glimpse of a Chinese girl writing a postcard to her family, before quoting Virginia Woolf to myself, gulping in the seawater and disappearing forever. Below: Prince William let's his hair down after years of solitude and bad surfing in St. Andrew's
Disclaimer. Although Jack was spooked out by St. Andrew's and received the impression that its students felt that the world owed them a favour while simultaneously denying that there was a world, he did not actually visit the university itself, just its surrounding habit, which is mostly within arms reach of the university. Jack studied at the University of Leeds and so is perhaps biased towards large cities with a rich and varied selection of galleries, live music, theatre, commerce and nightlife et cetera.


  1. Benjamin J. O'Brien7 October 2009 at 19:22

    Meh. Lost interest this time, principally because the critique is the extended-public-school-experience rhetoric all over again. There is a point where you have to look at the genetic fallacy: the public school is an imitation of the academy, not vice versa. There is nothing disingenuous about maintaining a traditional academic environment in a University.

    Their shared anachronism aside, Leeds is just as much a public school dumping ground. The University campus may as well be a Jack Wills advertisement. It is simply the down-with-the-kids version, where the ra's discovered Primark neon leg warmers.

    The notion of shutting off the world is not so much a critique as an idealisation. The entire point of the academy is to provide an environment for contemplation and higher learning. The tedium of the contemporary degree factory is reducing too many Universities into little more than glorified polytechnics. That and the sheer number of stupid subjects. I digress. The University of Leeds is hung on research, practising a little focus on the books rather than the beer might reduce the importance of the Russel Group to its reputation as a serious University.

  2. Benjamin J. O'Brien7 October 2009 at 19:24

    Oh - by the by, I will be in Leeds Thursday and Friday this week but working the whole time. But, in again next week and have some time on Wednesday afternoon if you are around?

  3. Benjamin J. O'Brien! You need your own blog, seriously!

    I agree that University was once a closed-circuit academic environment. But today, with half of the population taking degree courses, they are more of an obligatory extention to high school, in which important lessons are learned, not only about one's subject (which sadly in many cases has become arbitrary), but also about life.

    University is a day-job that accompanies the much wider assessment of "going to University" which entails real life, interacting, problem solving, socialising, trying new things, running and managing a house, encountering difficult people, trouble-shooting. Etc etc etc.

    Don't tell me the nightlife in Leeds didn't enrich your life skills, social understanding and lateral thinking in a away that no small town university ever could?

    Leeds by example. JC xx

  4. Jack, darl, you seem very keen to distance yourself from the public school. Do you really have any concept of what a comp in Felixstowe would be like? Do you really think many of the students at StA's are from such a place? Or are they mostly Dollar Academy/Fettes types? I totally understand what you mean about the icky, cosy, middle class continuity of going from, say, Oakham, to StA's . . . but you seem to be protesting too much.

  5. I'm at st. andrew's and I'm having a good time, but yes - it's full of public school tossers who couldn't get into oxford. Your post is very funny, and I'm sure you had a great time at leeds, still - st. andrew's does have its own little charm, belive. but you're right, the "real world" will probably be a shock!!!

  6. Ahww, i miss st andrews <3!

  7. Benjamin J. O'Brien26 October 2009 at 19:52

    I see your point, Leeds did teach me *something*, I am just not entirely sure what that something is. After all, real life is far disposed from student life - even to the point wherein school itself was closer to real life.

    I suppose what University gives you, in terms of real life experience, are the skills to live away from home, whilst maintaining the comfort of not really having to take care of yourself to any realistic level. You have a license to fail miserably at keeping your house, hygiene, organisation, etc. up to scratch.

    The point I am making is that University life, beyond the changed living circumstances, isn't anything like real life. In school you have structure, controlled social interaction and after school chosen social interaction. In Uni you have no structure and an abundance of chosen social interaction. In real life, you go to work (structure), you interact with people there (inevitable social interaction) and you meet up with people afterwards now and then (chosen social interaction).

    I guess part of me wonders whether running riot for 3 years, as opposed to a relatively quiet University experience, is much of an education in terms of anything besides how-to-do-University-at-Leeds? Don't get me wrong, hell of a lot of fun - its the substantive meat and two veg' learning experience that I question.

    As to blogs - I will get round to it one day, though I am not sure academic philosophy/theology filled in with a little life commentary would be your cup of tea ;)

  8. you are a sad little boy who couldn't get laid in leeds so had to go to greener pastures instead and then slag it off to cover your tracks. have fun working in macdonalds with your polytechnic degree.

  9. @Anonymous 18 November
    You couldn't be more wrong my lovely. Jack went to the University OF Leeds, and was a world-level slut there. (But a lovely one!)
    JM ;-) xxxxx

  10. @Anonymous 18 November

    AND Jack isn't a sad little boy. On the contrary he is an absolute GIANT!!! And full of festive cheer!!

  11. Thanks Jamie! Back-handed compliments have always been your speciality.

    I'm also loving the notion that people who can't get laid in Leeds would hike up to St. Andrew's? Erm....

    Right, gotta get back to tossing these French fries. Ciao readers.

    JC xx

  12. This is SOOOOOOOOOOOO Tany Gold and I know you'll take that as a compliment Jackie-O. x