With most of the new university intake safely installed in their various halls of residence, it’s now time for the annual round of Fresher’s Fairs.
Through work, we’ve visited a number of local fairs to try and obtain enrolments from potential blood donors, although altruistic tendencies are usually no match for the lure of cheap drinks and half price pizza at this stage of a university career.
I vaguely remember the Fresher’s Week from my time at Newcastle Polytechnic. The vagueness is more due to the passage of time than alcohol consumption - but back in the day I was man enough to easily knock back three whole pints of Woodpecker in an average evening, and still blast enough asteroids into oblivion to secure an extra life. If the drink was going down particularly well, I’d attempt an extra half, along with a packet of Worcester Sauce Wheat Crunchies... I might have been tough, but I wasn’t stupid.
I think there were a few events held during the week in question, but the one I’d been particularly looking forward to was the appearance of The Teardrop Explodes (you’d probably recognise their 1980 top ten hit “Reward”). Sadly, the reality was considerably poorer than the expectation, as the band was in turmoil at the time (late 1982) and fulfilled tour commitments as a trio, without a guitarist, and heavily reliant on backing tracks. In addition, they didn’t play any of their better known songs – “Treason” and “Bouncing Babies” to name another two – and by the end of the show, I was so miserable that I ordered a second bag of Wheat Crunchies... Crispy Bacon... nice, but they didn’t half repeat.
It took me quite a while to properly settle in to student life, but away from the lecture theatres and language labs (I was learning French and Geordie), there were a couple of decent nearby watering holes where I could relax and hone my largely unimpressive drinking skills. Some of these pubs (and the campus student union) still exist... but I doubt I’d recognise their respective interiors... more from the passage of time etc etc.
The Newton Park had a side room called the “Orac Bar”, so-named after the computer in the popular sci-fi series “Blake’s 7”; there was a pub called the Lochside quite close to the campus, and another near Four Lane Ends metro station called The Black Bull. I seem to recall that this particular establishment offered table service courtesy of an old lady whose name escapes me, but who must have been pushing eighty.
As an aside, I usually scoffed the Wheat Crunchies relatively early when I was there, because I wasn’t sure just how much cider it took for a gap-toothed granny to become strangely appealing; and I didn’t (and still don’t) think it would be appropriate to find out.
Anyway, the Black Bull was also the scene of my most comprehensive alcoholic defeat - courtesy of several pint glasses filled with Dry Blackthorn cider. It was the night of the campus’ Christmas Party. I did have a “date” for the evening; we’re still in touch, and she’ll probably read this; so by the time the final blog is posted any trace of masculine bravado will be have been replaced by words that properly convey a shame that lingered long after the hangover had eased.
I consumed five pints that night, without one single Wheat Crunchie [check dictionary for alternative definitions of “hard”], but the fatal error was not the amount; no, it was the fact that I lagged so far behind the “proper” drinkers, that I was left with just five minutes to down my final three pints.
Which I duly did... and felt fine... until I ventured outside.
I was so ill. I don’t expect any sympathy, but at one point I had to shoo away a dog that wanted to cock its leg near a tree because my need to throw up all over the trunk was far greater. The walk back to the student union is completely missing from my memory, although I do recall ending up, rather embarrassingly, in the ladies toilets at some point during the festivities. For the record, it’s not something I do very often - although there was this time in Costa Coffee a few years ago – and the next thing I can remember is waking up on the floor of my bedroom, my green rug decorated with what I mistakenly hoped were bits of carrot.
It’s quite bizarre that I have never forgotten something I can barely remember, but I hope that all the new students (wherever they may be) enjoy their first term, and aren’t overwhelmed by the enticement of a seemingly endless choice of rainbow-coloured drinks that are now on offer. As with most things in life, I suppose you need to learn by experience, but if I was to give two any drinking advice to the thousands of fresh-faced arrivals, it would be these two words... and I think by now you know what they are: Wheat Crunchies.