The Hermit Emerges

I write to you after a considerable absence at the keyboard for the past month. Since my last post I have moved to the Scottish capital Edinburgh where I am attending the University thereof in the study of English Literature and German. I currently reside on the ground floor of a block of student accommodation known charmingly as Hermit’s Croft with four other male flatmates, each bestowed with single-syllable names to my triplicate title.

You find me now at the end of my first week of “proper” lectures, following on from the introductory foray that is Freshers’ Week. Henceforth I shall transcribe an account of my misadventures that have accompanied me to this point.

Saturday 12th – moving in day. My family sticks around for as long as possible, we dine in the Elephant House café; an establishment which claims to have been host to the production of much of the first in the Harry Potter series. I eat little of my lasagne; I’m tense and defensive – this heightened state is mixed in with a good helping of FMO (Fear of Missing Out) because obviously everyone is having the time of their lives and is in a state of unprecedented euphoria, already having a whole city’s worth of friends in their possession within the first day of Freshers’ Week.

I tread carefully around in my new nine-month home. Any quirk or misdemeanour could sour a whole year’s worth of relations between myself and my randomly allocated acquaintances. Steeling myself for rejection and abuse I knock on the door of my, one and only at this stage, neighbour.

And we go out. Because it is expected and because I’ve planned it. All of it. Planned meticulously planned because spontaneity really isn’t me and this day has had too much already. I know the names of the bands playing, all researched and catalogued and calandered (yes that’s a verb now.) And yet, still utterly terrifying.

But by chance, sweet happenstance and coincidence, we meet a Bulgarian. Female Bulgarian. Out of all the nationalities that could have approached us, a Bulgarian.

This sounds unhinged I know, but there is an explanation for the remarkability with which I attribute the cultural collision. Yet a fortnight’s past I had hosted a European Union themed party which required of the attendees to dress according to their own specific and unique member state; this could be either the national dress, an indigenous celebrity or something more abstract to represent the given country. As luck would have it, I gave myself the task of representing Bulgaria for which I learnt “good evening” in the native tongue and made a Shopska Salad for the international buffet.

But the façade of friendship was eroded by the revelation that this 20-year-old was in fact a second year Freshers’ Week volunteer. I immediately began to question the veracity of the encounter, whether the entire conversation had been a false construct designed to make me feel welcome. This information once solicited, could never be withdrawn and even as I sat opposite her and my newly confessed vegan friend drinking ginger and lemon tea back at the flat I could not help the gnawing sense of paranoia from nibbling at my psyche.

On Sunday I attended my first Model UN debate in the Teviot Hall. This was where I met my New Yorker friends as we discussed solutions to the Syrian Refugee crisis. I found it very entertaining as a charismatic and impassioned representation of Lebanon was made, allied with Assad and blaming the Western intervention for the escalation of the conflict and the rise of ISIS. Of course I signed up for this society as I was advised by a cousin – say yes to everything; this of all weeks is the week of agreeability.

As darkness fell I returned to the Student Union; a place I had been told beforehand that I would never return to after the first week. Pronto Mama – a Glasgow-based six piece “indie prog” band were playing. They mixed a progressive sound with funky brass/saxophone breaks and rich harmonies to create a fascinating textural soundscape. For one song the entire band descended from the stage and unamplified sang a hauntingly beautiful acapella. To top it off I realised that I had been “dancing” beside someone doing exactly the same course as me all the way through.

On Monday I took the “lads” on a pub quiz in the Pleasance in which we did pretty poorly. Tuesday saw another UN debate, where territorial disputes and the increasing militarisation within the arctic were proposedly solved by making the region a permanent venue for winter sports by the delegate for the International Olympic Committee. Wednesday was my first proper experience of a DJ set, with a member of Metronomy taking to the decks to deliver a good mix of funk and indie tunes for the night.

Thursday was another first experience, this time of a poetry slam. This was truly a verbal extravaganza, an astounding level of quality and thoroughly contemporary content. It was quite strange to begin with, to listen to and experience poetry in a competitive context but the format did not seem to detract from what was being delivered. The crowd clicking in approval at particularly evocative moments, respectful but clearly engaging with what was being said. This was probably the most subtle yet potent moments of Freshers’ Week, although it was followed by discordant, atonal post rock in the Teviot whilst drunk members of the front row set about their task of destroying a plastic Guitar Hero controller during the progress of the set.

On Friday I went to the Introduction to the Student Newspaper, which really wasn’t much of an introduction to the Student Newspaper but was an introduction to some students who wanted to write for the newspaper. There I met a fellow Hermit’s Croftian and we went off to some flat party in Robertson’s Close which descended into some strange possibly too posh nightclub where shattered shards were scattered across the dancefloor.

The finale of my induction to Edinburgh concluded in Glasgow, where I had purchased months previously a ticket to see Wolf Alice off the back of a generous Ticketmaster voucher. I was greeted, on arrival in the Second City of the empire, by The Proclaimers blasting through the PA in George Square at a huge Yes rally, a year on from the rejection of independence by the Scottish people.

My experience of the gig was hindered somewhat by the necessity of carrying my overnight bag on my back, otherwise I would have been right in the moshpit. Anyhow, the band were excellent and I got to see Drenge also. The night ended after flat “pre-drinks” (a somewhat alien concept for me admittedly) in the Glasgow University Union, which is an entirely different animal from EUSA’s offerings. I have two words – Topless Balcony.

This may seem rather rambling and lacking in any perceivable connecting thread so I’m just going to wrap up in this following paragraph.

After two weeks in Edinburgh I’m slowly beginning to think that I may have made the right choice coming here. Though I won’t admit to having anything like the seemingly instantaneous camaraderie expected of a Fresher during their first couple of weeks, I feel the origins and roots of deeper things emerging. Intellectual bonds and meetings of the mind. I’ve met people whose, although I may not agree with them entirely, views and passions will help me to see the world more clearly and develop as person. I think of philosophy, and of seemingly useless anecdotes suddenly becoming relevant. On my visit to the anarchist society, my knowledge of communism suddenly finding forums for informed discussion. Even in these early days the theory of university as a scholastic community and a place of people who care about ideas is proving to be true. P.S. The city is totes beaut also.

About alasdairflett

German & English Literature graduate. From Orkney. Interested in alternative and indie music, language, writing and politics.
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