Becky says things about … the first day of Uni

Wondrous Listeners, many 18 year-olds are about to embark on the biggest adventure of their lives: University.

(Well, the second biggest adventure – the biggest adventure is the epic trip to Wilkinson to buy more kitchen supplies than they will ever use, 90% of which will spend the entire first year under their beds, never touched by human hands).

So what happens on the first day of this epic adventure?

I shall tell you a story.

My first day of University was on the 21st of September 2003.

[Pause while I consider the dreadful fact that this was 12 years ago.]

uni 1

I arrived at the concrete jungle that is the University of East Anglia with my parents and my younger sister. I went to the Student Union (what the hell was a Student Union?) to collect the keys to my room, trying to swallow the fear of being surrounded by more 18 year-olds than I thought existed in this world (where did they come from?). The girl who handed me my key said ‘Oh, you’re in Waveney Terrace. I was in Waveney Terrace in my first year. You’ll have a wicked time! Just don’t be put off my appearances.’

My mother almost drove me home there and then.


The girl was not wrong. I later heard a rumour that the design of Waveney Terrace had been inspired by that of a Swedish Prison, and there were definite incarceration-like qualities about it: a great, snaking concrete building that ran from blocks A to Q, each block with four floors. I was in N Block. A long corridor, seven rooms on each side, one kitchen with a McDonalds-style plastic table bolted to the floor, and a ‘bathroom’ with three toilet cubicles and one shower.

One shower.

For 14 teenagers of various genders and hygiene standards.


My room was a tiny breeze-blocked cell with a single bed barely big enough for Billy Bear and Huggy Bear (yes of course they came with me). My family and I stoically unpacked my things, my ears pricking at any sound of approaching fellow students. After a couple of hours, my family said they had to go.

I waved them off, watching their car trundle across the muddy car park.

I went back to my cell and stood in the middle of my few possessions. What did you feel, Becky? I hear you cry. Was it excitement? Freedom? No. What did I feel? I’ll tell you.


I then undertook the single most incredible feat of bravery that I have, to this day, ever performed: I swallowed the burning urge to burst into tears and hide under my bed, legged it up the corridor and exploded into the kitchen where two people were sitting awkwardly at the table, and yelled


[Extracted from Chapter 3 of ‘How to Break Ice’, by Prof. Becky Mayhew]

And so it began. One by one more quivering teenagers skulked into the kitchen, each eyeing the others with the fearful stare of a rabbit about to be ploughed over by a Ferrari, and I realised something wonderful: everyone was shitting themselves. Probably the greatest realisation of my young life. It made it so much easier. (Note to any impending Freshers reading this post: always remember, you are only as scared as the Fresher next to you, and he is cacking his pants.)

Conversation happened quickly. Judgements were made almost instantaneously (100% of them turned out to be wrong, obvs). Soon there were about ten of us bundled into the kitchen, and so I learnt another important nugget: on your first day of University you spend a lot of time yelling place and subject names at people, and it works remarkably well.




After we’d all exhausted ourselves by yelling our home towns at each other, someone uttered the words that would become the most frequently used phrase next to ‘Whose eaten my Admiral Pie?’: ‘Shall we go to the uni bar?’

And off we trundled, clinging to each other like King Penguins, to the heaving Uni bar which was full of other clinging groups of King Penguins who were – hallelujah! – all shitting themselves. And there, over insanely cheap drinks (99 pence for a gin and tonic. I know. Take a moment to digest that) more barriers were broken down, common interests were discovered, and I bonded with Mel and Emma in the toilets when my bra strap snapped.


And then, a couple of hours later, someone said ‘Hey, I’ve got some cheese – fancy going back to halls?’ And we must be the only Freshers in the history of Fresherdom who went back to halls at half past nine on the first day of Uni for cups of tea and a cheeseboard.


Then came the dread: it was suddenly half one in the morning, I was exhausted from being so inhumanely sociable for so long, and I wanted to go to bed. But no one else had gone to bed. I couldn’t be the first one to go to bed! I would forever be remembered as The One Who Left the Party Early. I knew how crucial this first day was, how important first impressions would be. Fortunately, the urge to snuggle up in my Aspirin packet-sized bed outweighed the fear of being labelled lame, so I bade them goodnight, claimed that I’d been up since five that morning (a heinous lie, but needs must), and scuttled off to my room. And, even more fortunately, about half an hour later, I heard them all do the same.


So there are several morals to this story, which you may like to share with anyone who will be starting University in the next few weeks:

  1. Congregate in the kitchen. The kitchen is the centre of your world on your first day.
  2. Don’t let your parents hang around. The longer they hang around, the less time you will have to yell your home town and subject at your new friends.
  3. Even if you want to crumble into a sandy heap of terror, run up to the nearest housemate and bellow your name in their face.
  4. Never forget that everyone else’s pants are equally as soiled as yours.
  5. Bring a cheeseboard.


Becky says things about … fear of flying

Yasas from a remote cove somewhere in Greece, most precious and distant Listener. I hope you are in fine health and jovial spirits.

I am thoroughly enjoying my holiday in Greece, thank you. I thoroughly enjoy being in any place where I can sit and stare at a 90 year-old fisherman’s bottom poking out of his shorts as he bends over to tend to his boat for an hour. Who wouldn’t?


What I don’t enjoy, my loveliest listeners, is the mode of transport I must utilise in order to get here.

Let me tell you how much I dislike flying: I would rather lie naked under a rhinoceros with unpredictable bowels than get on a plane.


In my fearful little brain, me boarding a plane and me approaching an ill-humoured bull, calling it a smelly idiot, punching it in the face, then donning a red shell suit and standing in front of it, will have the same result: I will definitely die.


If, by some miraculous good fortune, the plane’s wheels don’t burst on a piece of debris that fell off the plane in front and we career off the runway in a blazing ball of flames and body parts, then one of the following Death Events will certainly occur: Death by birds sucked into engines, Death by plane wings falling off, Death by power failure, Death by lack of oxygen, Death by random explosion, or, perhaps the most unfortunate of aviation deaths, Death by choking on a forkful of quivering, gelatinous scrambled egg on an otherwise safe and uneventful flight.


An irrational fear? A rational fear? I don’t care what it is; the simple fact is that my brain does not currently have the ability to comprehend how a huge metal tube can fly me and many, many other people to my destination without something going horrendously and irreversibly wrong.


I’ve learnt to cope with this fear over the years – inasmuch as curling up into the foetal position, stuffing my fingers in my ears and crying constitutes “coping” with anything – and fortunately the fear loses against my determination to continue to travel.

However, as well as having to cope with this chronic and traumatic fear of instant and pulverising death, one must also contend with those Things That Happen on a Plane That in No Way Help to Alleviate Your Fears or Calm Your Nerves But Instead Make You Want to Commit Aviation Genocide and Scream:

1. Noises.   

You KNOW in your heart that that whirring sound you hear when you first board the plane is just the air conditioning or general harmless mechanical noises, but your fear-addled brain tells you it is SOMETHING GOING DRAMATICALLY WRONG WITH THE PLANE AND THERE IS A FLURRY OF PEOPLE UNDERNEATH YOU DESPERATELY TRYING TO FIX THIS PROBLEM BEFORE IT KILLS YOU ALL. 


And you KNOW that that hideous cranking noise just after take-off that sounds exactly like a major piece of the aircraft falling off and hurtling to the ground, is simply the wheels tucking themselves neatly back into their compartment – but unfortunately, your fear-consumed brain tells you that A MAJOR PIECE OF THE AIRCRAFT HAS JUST FALLEN OFF AND HURTLED TO THE GROUND AND WE WILL DIE AS A CONSEQUENCE. Because that is precisely what it sounds like.

(Note to any listeners who make airplanes: PLEASE do something about this. ANYTHING would be better than listening to the wheels-tucking-themselves-back-where-they-belong sound.)


2.    Children and Babies

I understand that children and babies are not silent creatures. I understand that, despite the efforts of the leathery old sow in front of me who yelled ‘Shut up!’ down the cabin to a crying baby, the baby in question is not going to respond thus:


However, when one is faced with the certainty of imminent death, the last thing one needs is babies screaming and playful 5 year olds making the following comment on the plane’s noises: ‘What was that sound, Mummy? The plane’s broken! Hahahahahahahahahahahaha the plane’s broken!’

Not funny. Not funny at all.

3.  Difficult Passengers

One wants to relax before Certain Death. One does not need to be riled by the aforementioned leathery old sow making loud demands for gins and tonic (at 8.30am no less), or saying to the person in front of her ‘Excuse me, but I think you’re abominably rude to put your seat so far back into my lap,’ and then proceeding to put her seat so far back into my lap that I was practically eating breakfast off her head.


Nor do I need to be vexed by a nearby passenger saying this to a stewardess:


Yes, that really happened. The stewardess deserves the ‘Diplomacy in the Air’ Award for not replying ‘Yes that’s fine. In fact, why don’t we stop off in Munich and get you some strudel?’

We’d all like an omelette or some strudel. None of us enjoyed the food. But your ludicrous demand has only served to increase my stress levels and pique my ire. Stop it.

4.  Turbulence

You know that planes don’t just fall out of the sky. You know that turbulence is just ‘bumpy air’ (what the ruddy hellfire is ‘bumpy air’????). But when you are suddenly thrown from your seat and the woman behind you starts saying the Lord’s Prayer, it does absolutely NOTHING to reduce your conviction that YOUR DEATH IS ON THE VERY IMMEDIATE AGENDA.


If I can offer you one piece of turbulence-related advice, it is this: do NOT look at the faces of the stewards. Your frantic search for comfort in a calm, smiling face will backfire spectacularly if the steward has


written all over their face. It happened on a flight from New York. I didn’t enjoy it.


Other than all that, I love flying.