BBC Radio 6 seems full of people telling stories of Freshers’ Week at colleges and universities up and down the country. Male students seem not to have evolved in forty years. A tale was told this morning of the grimness of sharing a house with six other male undergraduates; there was no adherence to any cleaning rota because no such rota had been considered.
Freshers’ Week seemed a time for the establishment of hierarchies, or that was the way it seemed from the perspective of someone at the bottom. I became very aware of being a rustic. I remember a very suave third year student showing us around the London School of Economics during Freshers’ Week. She had a purple Mini with one of those stickers on the back, ‘I’ and then a red heart and then ‘NY’. “What a strange name,” I thought, “Iony – maybe she is Scottish.” I also remember a freshers’ disco at the Odeon in Leicester Square, a venue for music as well as film. Standing in the queue outside, two attractive female students chatted to me. Once inside, they said that surely I would buy them a drink. The three drinks cost £1.80, twice the going rate at the time. Once I handed them their drinks, they disappeared with their friends. It was the last time I bought anyone anything other than a pint of bitter.
Music was always a big thing in Freshers’ Week. Bands would play at university venues. Each would be billed as the next major act, each would be announced as on the edge of a breakthrough. At the LSE, the most famous former student to turn musician was Mick Jagger, although how much studying he ever did in return for his student grant is unclear. Aspiring vocalists and guitarists would be hailed by the sellers of tickets as successors to whatever band they sought to imitate; as playing music for those who were serious about their music; as being a cult band with dedicated followers.
Perhaps someone has done research into the number of student bands that have been formed over the decades and the number that ever became successful. Those who went to the LSE in the decades after Mick Jagger’s presence there would have been able to very quickly calculate how slim were the chances of success. Perhaps it was about ego rather than music, about establishing a place in the order of things. If the aspirant rock musicians disappeared, the egos probably reappeared – in parliament, in the media, in the city, in business; the hierarchy established in that first week probably never went away.