TOM’S XTREME GUIDE TO SOUTHAMPTON!11!!1! THE FINALE!
Many moons ago I wrote a couple of guides to being a student at Southampton University, and the fact they were posted on LiveJournal is indicative of just how old they are. In those guides I was speaking as a first year student, someone who had not yet experienced the excitement of dealing with landlords, the thrill of actually needing to work hard, and yes, the smells of Portswood. Having graduated last summer, I think it is finally time to finish the trilogy of XTREME GUIDES and share with you, dear reader, all the information you will ever need when trying to survive in Southampton, the most glorious city of them all! Whether you’re a student or just passing by, there’s something here for everyone!
After your catered and carefree first year is over, you’ll find yourself having to fend for yourself in the big city, by which I mean you’ll have to find your own place to live and – horror of horrors – have to cook for yourself. I’ll mention cooking later so for now, let’s get down to the basics of getting your own place.
Section 1: Landlords
It would seem pertinent to mention landlords after where you should choose a house, but landlords are going to play such a big part in your horrible memories of university that you need to warned as soon as possible. Now, they're not all bad - my third year landlord was in fact a pretty nice guy - but my second year landlord, the now-infamous Mr Ahmed, was a money-grabbing, lying, cheating bastard who did anything to screw us over and keep our deposits. His exploits were in fact so bad that I created an entire cartoon series about him, which you can see here, here and here. Nothing like making the best of a bad situation!
Before we move on, I've got some PRO-TIPS for people moving into a new uni house. They are:
Section 2: Choosing a house
Choosing a house is a difficult task. Calls need to be made, sweaty hands need to be shaken, and filthy student homes need to be carefully navigated while avoiding crushed beer cans and mouldy pizza crusts. I cannot say with absolute certainty what you should be looking for, but the following tips may help you avoid getting house pie all over your face.
If you can tolerate the smell, it is generally a good idea to visit a house when the current occupants are there. There are two reasons for this – first, most students are very honest about their landlord, and will probably tell you if they’ve had any serious problems. Second (and this is important), if the current occupants seem polite, intelligent and clean-cut, the house is probably pretty decent because good landlords do not like bad occupants. When we visited our second year house for the first time, one of the occupants had covered up his windows with black bin-liners and was standing in the kitchen with red, swollen eyes. As soon as we entered (and with no provocation whatsoever) he said, “DON’T LOOK IN MY CUPBOARD”. Suffice it to say, the landlord ended up being terrible, which isn’t surprising given he was ok about having a window-covering, piss-head crack-whore living in his property.
Consider all aspects of a house when you visit it. Can you see yourself chilling in the lounge with friends? Is it suitable for parties? Are the rooms relatively similar? Does it seem warm and inviting? If the answer to any of these is no, then you might want to reconsider it. This sounds like I’m blowing things out of proportion, but not really – this is the place you’re going to be eating, sleeping and working in for a whole year, so if you’re not really sure about it after 10 minutes, imagine how you’ll feel after 10 months.
If you’re vocal about disliking any part of the house, such as the kitchen or the couches or whatever, I guarantee the landlord with assure you he’s going to have the place done-up over the summer. At this point you need to apply my previous advice to assess whether he’s telling the truth or not. If you still need help, consider that both my second and third year landlords assured us they would be making serious improvements to the house over the summer. Let’s assess them and what they did:
Section 3: Where to live
If you’re a student, choosing where to live is very simple. There are literally two choices:
If you’re not a student and are working in Southampton or have the unfortunate handicap of having been born in Southampton, there is only one choice:
Section 4: Portswood
You are standing in a filthy high street. Dog carcasses and rotten food litters the streets, and the howl of a midnight hag pierces the eerie silence. The sky darkens and a freezing wind engulfs you, piercing your skin, chilling you right through to your tainted soul. Welcome to Portswood!
Portswood is to Southampton as Peckham is to London. Featuring all your favourite piss-poor dirty town attractions such as a local populace that wishes you dead simply for being a student, and a number of unlicensed and revolting local fast-food outlets, Portswood has it all.
Let’s make one thing clear though – if you’re a second or third year student not living in Portswood, you are a loser with no friends. Not only does anyone who’s anyone live there, but living in Portswood is simply the correct thing to do. Think of it as a bizarre form of initiation, a rite of passage that every student must take to pass from being a lowly fresher newbie to a second or third year veteran. If you can survive for one or even two years in Portswood, you are fully equipped to survive wherever your degree in Media Studies takes you (McDonalds).
If you start living in Portswood and get the frankly insane urge to hit the town and see what it has to offer, you will not be entertained. There are number of boring bars, a few atrocious restaurants, and a Tesco Express down Lodge Road that is pretty much only notable for its cashpoint. Need money in a hurry? Well tough, there are already twenty students waiting for cash, they’re all drunk, and the machine has probably broken anyway.
There is of course one place to go in Portswood. One place that strikes fear into the hearts of even the strongest men. One place that can shatter dreams and destroy lives. Brace yourself readers, we’re about to take a visit to…
Jesters is by far the worst bar/club in the entire known universe. Do you remember that scene in Blade where the club’s sprinkler system covers the occupants in human blood and it turns out everyone there is a vampire? Going to Jesters for an hour is probably less enjoyable than a whole evening there.
There are three things that you will notice when you enter Jesters – the noise of a hundred drunk students, the smell of vomit and sawdust, and the heat of a thousand furnaces. Walking down the tiny staircase to the bar below is, in many ways, reminiscent of descending into the bowels of Hell. Hell probably has better beer at any rate.
Jesters consists of a crowded bar area, a tiny dancefloor, and a beer garden which features high concrete walls, benches that are permanently wet, and the world’s least effective heaters. If you’re thinking you’d need a pretty stiff drink to enjoy a place like this then you’re in luck, as Jesters has a selection of interesting tipples tasty enough to whet anyone’s whistle, provided you have no tastebuds are in fact addicted to pain. The highlights:
After consuming any/all of these drinks, you’re ready to hit the dancefloor. And what a dancefloor it is, featuring roughly four-by-four meters of space to move around in and the worst DJ ever. I hope you like listening to music from the 80s, Queen, and the Baywatch theme, because that is literally all you’re going to get. Speaking of Baywatch, it is customary for all the male (and sometimes female) students in attendance to take their tops off and sing along when the theme comes on. Legendary Jesters regulars Tim ‘Where’s my shotgun?’ Keen and Chris ‘Kiss my face’ Kabban can often be found performing this ritual at any time of any day.
THINGS TO DO THAT AREN’T JESTERS
If you’re looking to have fun but don’t want to go to Jesters, here are some ideas and why most of them don’t really work. As a side note, all of these are standard options when deciding what to do for someone’s birthday.
Invite people round for a barbecue. Southampton’s climate ranges from freezing to tepid, so you can actually recreate the experience by eating half-cooked meat while sitting in front of your freezer.
Arrange a fancy-dress party. These are generally fun but you will invariably be invited to three in a week, which means everyone’s costumes get increasingly awful as the parties go on.
Host a house-party. Don’t worry about the house getting messy – just as everyone is starting to enjoy themselves, some dick-cheese will suggest going to a club instead and everyone will follow them. I guarantee that this will happen without fail every single bloody time.
Stay in and play Guitar Hero. The rest of your housemates who are trying to study/sleep will hate you for it, but who cares? Nothing says 'cool' like being able to hit coloured buttons on a small plastic guitar in time to Pat Benatar. ROCK OUT!
Suggest going out for a posh meal or to the cinema. Everyone will laugh at you because students are poor and don’t like change, so you’ll end up going to Jesters instead. What were you thinking?!
PREPARING FOR A BIG NIGHT OUT
So you’ve decided you’re going to hit the town (Jesters) and can’t decide what to do beforehand. The following sections will guide you to party success!
Section 1: Pre-drinks
Everyone knows that bars and clubs charge ridiculous prices for drinks, so beat them at their own game by getting wasted on cheap, horrible alcohol prior to going out! Here are some PRO-TIPS on what to do and what to avoid:
Section 2: The great jacket debate
I cannot think of a single issue that has divided student opinion as much as this. Deciding whether or not to wear a jacket on a night out is generally the hardest thing you will have to do at university – FACT. There are so many factors to consider – how far is the club? Are we going to lots of different places? Will people want to sit outside? Is the queue going to be long?
For my own part, I will say this – if you decide to wear a jacket out, for goodness’ sake use the cloakroom. You won’t have to carry your jacket around everywhere, it’s only a pound, and you shouldn’t even think about wearing it in there. Nothing says ‘ultimate belmer’ like standing around in a boiling-hot, sweaty club while wearing your fur-lined parker.
Perhaps the only one constant deciding factor when choosing to take a jacket out is what your housemates are doing. Are they already wearing jackets? Then join the club. Are you the only one wearing a jacket? Then take it off you massive pansy.
Section 3: Getting cash
It’s freezing outside, and you have decided against taking a jacket. You and your student chums walk quickly in the darkness, breath hanging in the air, desperately trying to reach your destination where warmth and beer awaits. You shudder as a strong gust of freezing wind blows effortlessly through your cheap polyester shirt. Then some guy says ‘hey everyone, hold up, I need to get cash out’.
Do you want to be that guy? Are you that guy? The moral of the story is clear – if you know you’re going out, get money beforehand. Unless the cash point is literally on the way, or if everyone has agreed to go get cash together, you do not want to be ‘that guy’.
Section 4: Don’t follow Tom Fielden’s example
You see that guy up there? That’s Tom Fielden, university extraordinaire and professional lady-killer, but also supreme reigning champion of the Slow Bastard Olympics. When everyone has started the pre-drinks, Tom is asleep. When everyone is clean and dressed, Tom is in the shower. When everyone is about to leave, Tom is running around in his underpants singing along to MF Doom.
In addition, Tom often tries to be the drunk badboy, but is too nice to do it properly. On one notable occasion he drunkenly ran after a random pedestrian riding a bike, only to have the pedestrian stop, forcing Tom run away and hide.
Being like Tom is desirable in many ways. Look at the boof haircut, the manly pose, the muscular frame. But you don’t want to be inefficient when you’re getting ready or rowdy when drunk, because then you will get a reputation for being Mr Slowpants McFartsalot. And we all love Tom, but he truly is Mr Slowpants McFartsalot.
Getting from Portswood to any of the university campuses is easy on foot, but if you’re living elsewhere or are simply a giant fatty there are a few alternative options.
Bringing a car to Southampton can be useful but is not entirely recommended as petrol is expensive, you can walk everywhere as it is, and the only time me and my housemates couldn’t walk was on a big night out in town, and nobody wants to be the designated driver. Additionally, if you’re the owner a nice or at least half-decent car, if you bring it to university it will go from being clean and tidy in your first year to resembling Satan’s death chariot in the final year. Moss and fungi will be growing on the back seat, crisps and toe nails will litter the floor, and the whole thing will have the unmistakeable stench of musk.
A bike is a powerful commodity in Southampton. Not only will everyone want to borrow it, but it makes getting from A to B easy, doesn’t require petrol, and can even be operated whilst drunk, with varying degrees of success. Additionally, no-one will be able to pester you for a lift (you’re going to give a lot of those if you have a car) which means your bike probably won’t end up smelling like a thousand unwashed students at the end of uni.
The final option – the bus – is almost not worth mentioning as Southampton has far and away the worst bus service in any city in the world. Three buses in a row over an hour period will fail to arrive with no explanation, buses will regularly arrive 20 minutes late and will refuse to stop for you, and often the bus drivers will lie to your face. Case in point – I was getting the bus from Portswood to Southampton Central as I was getting a train into Bristol to see friends. When I got on the bus, I asked the driver if he was going to Southampton Central and he replied that he was. When the bus eventually terminated in the middle of nowhere, I asked the bus driver why we hadn’t stopped at the train station, to which he replied: “oh, I don’t stop there on weekends”. I missed my train and had to pay for a new ticket.
Take my advice and stick to walking. If you’re going on a big night out and it’s cold – and trust me, it will be cold – the thought of drinks and merriment will warm you up on the way there, and the inevitable beer coat will warm you up on the way back.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
Remember those happy fresher days when work didn’t matter and all you cared about was going on MSN, getting drunk, and hitting on people? Well those days are OVER and it’s time to start doing some work, you FILTHY STUDENT.
Section 1A: General university work
The majority of universities put no emphasis whatsoever on the first year, requiring you to achieve a pitiful 40% or more in all your work to advance to the next year. What you get means absolutely nothing and doesn’t contribute in any way to your second or third year score, so it’s understandable that you spent your first year wanking and playing GoldenEye. Come the second year though and oh boy, it’s time to start working.
For most university work, the smartest thing to do when you’ve got an assignment is to do all the research and preliminary work as early as possible so you can get it done and have a few weeks before the deadline to polish it up and generally relax. Of course, hardly anyone does this, with most students instead choosing to do no work until the final week and then panicking as all the good library books have already been taken.
If you fall into the latter category, you will have a difficult choice to make that has troubled students since universities first began. Put simply, do you hand in a crappy piece of work on time, or do you spend an extra day making it better and get 5% knocked off the mark for being late?
Let’s think about this rationally for a moment. If you choose to hand the work in late, thus netting you a 5% punishment, you must logically believe you can make the essay or report at least 6% better in one day. This is certainly feasible, but if you’ve decided to go down this path, you better make sure you actually make the improvements and really work at it all night, rather than thinking ‘bugger it’ and going off to have a wank and play GoldenEye.
Section 1B: The dissertation
I actually found the entire dissertation process generally agreeable, so I only have two main things to say here.
Choosing a topic you find engaging and interesting is by far the most important part of your entire dissertation. However, choosing a topic you find engaging and interesting is great unless it happens to be the stupidest or dullest topic imaginable. During our second year, we had a lecture where we got to read dissertations from previous students to help us assess what makes a dissertation good, and what makes a dissertation bad. Two have stuck in my mind – the first discussed aliens, pagan rituals and famous monuments, and the second discussed the implications of having too much reliance on computer technology when recreating partially destroyed archaeological finds. The first was of course interesting but total nonsensical bollocks, and the second – while being reasonably well-written – was one of the most boring things I have ever read in my life.
Dissertation presentations are absolutely pointless. Some universities don’t even do these, but Southampton does, and in it consists of you standing in front of a room of bored second years as you show them your wanky PowerPoint presentation demonstrating what your dissertation is about and what you’ve done so far. It counts for absolutely nothing, but at least it provides some mild entertainment when you get someone presenting a dissertation that’s doomed to fail. I had the pleasure of sitting through a presentation about an archaeology dissertation, which was to do with the punk movement in the 70s and 80s. Watching the hung-over, stupid bell-end presenting it trying to badly explain what exactly this had to do with archaeology was a treat indeed, and I sat smugly with my arms folded, his monotone voice sweet music to my ears.
One last thing - binding sucks!
Section 2: Real work
If you are some kind of inhuman super child who doesn’t already get stressed-out by deadlines in amidst your normal day-to-day routine, then maybe you’ll want to find a job while at uni. However, if you’re like everyone else and can’t manage to get on with uni work normally, then it’s probably not a good idea to start real work. Still, I did some work during the summer between my second and third year and that worked pretty well. Then again the majority of my work consisted of delivering leaflets up and down very steep hills for bad pay, so maybe it’s not for everyone.
Anyone who knows me can testify that in my third year I went from ‘world’s skinniest man’ to ‘moderately acceptable’, thanks largely to my giant housemate Ross and his mate Rich, a personal trainer who took pity on me and my pathetic body and wrote me up a few proper gym plans for free. Thanks to them girls no longer point and laugh at me in the street. Cheers guys!
However, I’m not here to talk about myself and I’m definitely not here to discuss gym routines and exercises. What I am here to do is discuss a little something I like to call Gym Etiquette. What is Gym Etiquette, I hear you ask? Quite simply, it is understanding what you should and should not do when surrounded by complete strangers in a changing room.
The men’s changing room is a mysterious and frequently terrifying location. It should only serve three purposes – letting men store their stuff, shower, and get changed. However, certain individuals have decided that this isn’t good enough. No, being efficient and quick in the changing room is apparently not want some men want. Apparently these men think that unless they stand completely naked in the changing room while having loud conversations about football with their mate across the entire length of the room, something is missing. We’re not talking about brief nudity here (it’s a changing room, what do you expect?) I’m talking about guys who seem so desperate to prove how manly they are that they will just stand around, sweaty man-balls swinging from side to side, as they shuffle around the room and pretend to dry themselves. I have actually been in a crowded changing room before where one guy decided the only way he could possibly dry himself was by standing on the bench completely naked, his filthy member hanging around at chest height. Don’t even get me started on the fat old men who seem to not care that total nudity + bending over = ABSOLUTE FAIL.
Does this happen in the women’s changing room? Do women just casually stand around completely naked, or get on benches with nipples at eye-level? I doubt it. But if they do, please e-mail me telling me about it in extraordinary detail.
YOU LIKE FOOD? I LIKE FOOD!
Your first year is coming to an end and let’s face it, you have the culinary skills of a dead rat. You better suck it up and learn some basic dishes or else you're going to be eating beans on toast and pasta for the rest of your life. Still, even this would be preferable to going out and eating in Southampton - I've mentioned abominations such as Pizza Land S and Uni Kebab in previous guides, so let's focus purely on the worst that Portswood has to offer:
Cunningly situated between Jesters and Sobar, Chickoland is the answer to every drunk person's wishes - cheap, scanky food. When Jesters closes, Chickoland is where the after-party is held, and what a party it is, complete with vomit, queue-jumping, and people screaming at each other.
I have a lot of personal beef with Chickoland, as it's the place I got the worst food poisoning of my entire life. Guess what I ate? Chips. I am being dead serious, I ate chips from Chickoland and spent the next day throwing up twenty-five times. My guess is that they touched meat or raw chicken and then touched the chips, but still, epic fail.
If you're drunk and feeling a little upmarket, Subway is the place to go! Can't beat that made fresh taste, mmm. Well actually you can, because the workers in Portswood Subway would toast your bread for far too long, forget to change the lettuce even when it had gone brown, and give you more sauce than you could possibly ever want. This was always doubly dangerous for me, as I like having a bit of honey and mustard, and a bit of mayonnaise. Asking them for a little bit of both sometimes meant I'd get next to no sauce, and other times it meant I'd get the world's slimiest foot-long. What a bunch of reprobates!
Oh, Charcoal Grill, home of the drunkest students in town. Seriously, if you're too drunk to get into Chicoland (and let's face it, they're not picky), you go to Charcoal Grill. We are talking drunkfest number one here people, and the food fits the customers - in other words, it is disgusting.
Now we're getting serious. Well actually no, we're not getting serious, as the only people remotely anxious on results day are those who did no work, and those who are borderline between a 2.1 and a first. I mean come on, one of my housemates couldn't get his results until a few months later as he'd handed in a final bit of work late, and even he wasn't anxious.
I'm not sure how typical this all is, but amongst my friends, we all got exactly what we expected or better. And how do you celebrate something like that? CHUGFEST! Followed by GRAD BALL!
So, this is it - you've survived living in Portswood, you've (mostly) kept up with your work, and you haven't died from alcohol poisoning. Congratulations! It's now time to graduate, and what better way to party than... attending a ceremony with your parents while wearing rented robes. AWESOME!
But seriously, this is your big day, so enjoy it. Drink some champagne, reminisce about the good times, and make vague promises to stay in contact with people you never really liked in the first place. This is effectively it for university, so go out in style.
And that is pretty much it for my guides to Southampton! From the start of university to me finishing this final guide, it's been an epic journey spanning four years, during which I met a lot of awesome people and did a lot of stupid stuff. For me, university was totally different each year - the first was carefree and easy, the second was tough and my house was awful, and the third was one of the best years of my life. I think that whatever you go into uni looking for is precisely what you end up leaving with, and for me, I ended up with a bunch of great friends and finally learnt how to be disciplined with my free time. I also ended up with a severely damaged liver and a few mental scars, but hey! Welcome to Southampton.