At about this time of year, the Intellectual Hooligan's heart goes out to all those naive youngsters embarking upon their first term of university. Those poor freshers.
For the Intellectual Hooligan remembers all too clearly his own Freshers' Week. It was absolutely shit.
I'm not sure what's with the nationwide conspiracy to pretend that this isn't the case. Or perhaps it's just that people other than me all enjoy stomach-churning rollercoaster oscillations between gruellingly awkward silences, hideously banal exchanges, hateful 'ice-breaking' exercises and cheap alcohol.
So, yes. Freshers' Week is shit for many reasons. But it's also dangerous.
You're in a new environment. An unfamiliar, intimidating environment. One in which everyone is doing his or her best to appeal nonchalant and cool (oh, what a change from school, eh?)
So the danger is this.
You meet some people who are not acting nonchalant and cool. They're smiley and happy and welcoming.
'Oh, how nice!' cries your Fresher brain, 'Aren't these people lovely?'
Yes, they are indeed lovely. They invite you to sit with them at dinner. They ask you questions and listen attentively to your answers. Heck, maybe they are just a little bit intense. But they all seem so NICE.
'Hey!' exclaims one of them. 'A few of us were thinking of heading along to a gig this evening! You want to come along?' (Yes. These are nice people who talk with unnecessary exclamation marks. Gee. THEY'RE SO NICE!)
So, nodding your fresh little head in eager acquiescence, you accept the invitation.
Spool forward: we're at the venue. People are queueing. You have a vague sense that something's not quite right. Hard to put your finger on it. Then you realise: they're all queuing VERY NICELY. All smiling. Not much posing, not many fag-clouds. Everyone's SMILING. It's Freshers' Week; they're in a queue. But they're SMILILNG.
Heck, these people are just SO NICE.
So you and your nice group join the back of the nice queue. At this point, perhaps, you're beginning to think: 'Wait a minute … I don't actually think I'm all that nice, though … In fact, the more I think about it, the more I suspect I'm actually quite a bastard. Hmmm.'
But you dismiss the thought. 'Heck!' you tell yourself, 'Why am I worrying about people being nice? This is great!'
But – you're also beginning to think, 'Okay. Yes. It's great. And, sure, they're real NICE. But a couple of the people in this group I'm hanging out with are FUCKING ANNOYING. There's this 'larger than life' guy, for instance. He keeps hugging people, dancing and capering around and presumptuously characterising himself as 'The Quirky One Of The Group'. The Funny Guy.
And he's actually really not funny. He's just a prat.'
But, hey. Even so. He's a NICE prat.
Then, before you know it, you're inside the venue.
There are tables.
People are chatting. (It's actually quiet enough to chat, not shout, y'see.)
And … hmmm … there aren't actually that many people here, really, are there? Well. Er … maybe it's quite … underground? Ah! Here's the band … Two guys with – what's that? – acoustic guitars?
Well, they're quite tight … Not what you'd call musically innovative … Quite simple … Melodic … Hardly edgy … To be honest, not my thing. But it's inoffensive enough. Could've been a lot worse, I guess.
So, what are they singing then?
Reader, you know as well as I do: it's not always easy to make out lyrics in pop songs. Especially live. Things are blurred, consonants are smeared, sound booms and echoes and resonates.
But there's one word that really cuts through the muddiest mix.
One word that will sure as hell catch my attention when it's belting out of a PA.
One word that has the power to make my head whip around and my attention snap into focus.
That word, dear reader, is 'Jesus'.
Finally, see, it all makes sense. The niceness. The openness. The welcoming vibe. The politeness. THE FACT THAT EVERYONE IS PUTTING UP WITH THAT FUCKING ANNOYING FAT TOSSER WHO KEEPS HUGGING PEOPLE.
The horrible truth crystallises like, um, a horrible crystal:
I AM AT A CHRISTIAN UNION BAND NIGHT.
(And, yes, this Really Happened.)
So, Freshers: beware. It sucks, but it's a grim reality: if someone is nice to you during Freshers' Week – scram.