Becky says things about … the last days of term

Can you hear that, fair Listener? It is the ecstatic collective squeal of school children around the globe as we approach the summer holidays.


And, if you listen carefully, you will hear the exhausted wails of several thousand teachers.


Fact: there is nothing more exciting than the last days of term.

Amongst the hysteria and the chaos and the inevitable child that got over-excited and quietly soiled herself in assembly, one thing was certain as we approached that last golden week: teachers would stop doing their one job.


Each lesson would become a lucky dip of unfathomable treats. What would await us on the other side of the door? A TV on wheels, stationed at the front of the class like a proud, tubby Emperor?


Or a wordsearch? The end of term is the one time in a human being’s life when a wordsearch is legitinately and shamelessly thrilling. When presented as an alternative to distilling some water, or reciting the German for ‘When the weather is good, I play tennis*’, a wordsearch is your ticket to happiness.

*Wenn das Wetter gut its, spiele ich Tennis. (Aber, wenn das Wetter schlecht ist, spiele ich Tischtennis.)

Sometimes, however, the teachers couldn’t even bring themselves to provide us with any form of stimuli, and instead left us to our own devices.


Oh, the thrill of getting away with slight alterations to your uniform! The teachers’ stringent term-time sartorial rules would gradually relax in the run-up to the holidays – they would half-heartedly frown at your trainers, or your whimsical approach to doing up your tie – until eventually they literally didn’t give a shit.


There were vague last-ditch attempts to send us on our way with some educational remnants in our brains, by making us sit through a final assembly on the importance of listening to our parents and doing our Tudor projects over the holidays, and remembering at all times that we were representatives of the school, but they may as well have been talking to a hedge.


And the peak of a mountain of almost unbearable happiness? The half day.

As the clock inched to 1pm on that final day, the teacher would take a last register and tell us to get the hell out, and as we left the school gates we would wipe away a single tear.


Oh, yes, I enjoyed years and years of tremendously exciting last days of term.

Until my very, very last day of term, in my third and final year of university.

I sat my last exam in the second week of a six week term. As I put down my pen on my Literature of World War One exam, I realised, with a strange mixture of elation and trepidation, that I had just completed my life in education. The years of coursework, seminars, lectures, revising, binge-eating Malteasers, were over. (Happily, it soon transpired that my life of binge-eating Malteasers had only just begun.) Naturally, I wanted to celebrate.

I rushed into the pub, expecting to find willing drink-gin-until-we-puke comrades, but was instead met with a silent citadel of revision.






I went home, had a cup of tea and watched Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, so I think you’ll find I had the last laugh.

So, enjoy these last days of term, particularly if they are your very last, as from now on there are no last days of term: just a continuous drudgery of work with no foreseeable end.


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 … not being good at Geography

Two very bad things have happened in the last six months:

1) I realised that the geographical location of the Falkland Islands was absolutely and categorically NOT where I thought it was;

2) I told my boyfriend about it.

The consequence of number 2 is that I have been mocked and ridiculed to within an inch of my life by those who are supposed to be my friends. This is possibly justified. Before I tell you where I thought the Falklands were, let me tell you that my knowledge of geography couldn’t be any worse if I had been born underground and lived for my entire 27 years in a cardboard box deep in the folds of the earth with no communication with the outside world, no knowledge of anything at all, and then been led to the surface on my 28th birthday and asked ‘Okay, now tell us where Svalbard is.’

Let me also tell you that the Falklands war was in 1982, I was born in 1985, it was NOT on the national curriculum at school (I know all sorts of important things about the world wars, the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, and the Cold War by the way thank you very much), and unfortunately it just happens to not be one of those things I just ‘know’ about, like you just ‘know’ that the Statue of Liberty is in America or that Henry VIII had six wives. You just know these things before you’ve been taught them. I was never taught about the Falklands. I have never read up on it, never saw anything about it. Yes, I knew there was a terrible war there. And it is terrible, awful, atrocious and disgusting that I don’t know what happened or, more importantly, WHERE the hell it happened. I know, I know that this is a disgrace.

So here we go.

I thought that the Falklands were part of the Channel Islands.

I’ll give you a minute to exclaim things like ‘Nooooo!!’ and ‘She never did!’ and ‘What a complete loser‘ and ‘She comes across as reasonably bright but she’s actually a total idiot face!’


Now look. I am aware that this is an appalling thing to have thought. But give me a moment to attempt to, not justify myself exactly – I’m sure Stalin tried to justify a few things in his time – but rather explain why I may have come to this conclusion.

Firstly, I gave up Geography after Year 9. This means I was 14. I’ll tell you why I gave up Geography in Year 9. It’s because I was fed up with learning about the exportation of bananas from Ghana, fed up with trying to tell the difference between sedimentary and metamorphic rock, and fed up with drawing tributaries and meanders and deltas (remember those?). In all my years of national curriculum Geography I never once looked at a map of the world. Or a globe. Look at this map:

Courtesy of

Isn’t that just brilliant? Instead of looking at this brilliant map, we went on a field trip to Tolworth Broadway. This is Tolworth Broadway:

Courtesy of

Tolworth Broadway was less than a mile from my house. I knew about Tolworth Broadway. I knew there was an Iceland and a Marks and Spencer’s and a really cool stationers where I’d get my start-of-term rubbers and pencils and stuff. I didn’t need to learn anything else about Tolworth Broadway. What I did need to learn was things like where countries are, and which countries are attached to each other and which countries are separated by things like seas and oceans, you know, things about  the world we live in.

Because I wasn’t interested in what I was taught in Geography, I wasn’t very good at it. In a mock test for end-of-year exams I came across the question ‘Why do you think child mortality rates are higher in certain countries?’, or words to that effect. I thought child mortality rates meant children being born. I had no idea why this might be. So I thought I’d be clever, and wrote:

It was only afterwards in discussions with my classmates that I realised child mortality rate meant deaths; so consequently my amusing little quip implying that adults have nothing better to do than make babies (tee hee hee), actually implied that adults have nothing better to do than go around killing children. I didn’t do very well in my exam.

Secondly, the Falkland Islands look like the Channel Islands.

Look at these two pictures:

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

I mean, come on. There’s not much in it, is there?

And where do you think this is?

Courtesy of

It’s the ruddy Falkland Islands. So when I saw interviews a few months ago with British Falkland Island residents giving their opinions on whether Prince William should visit, and these little old ladies were standing in front of red phone boxes and saying in what sounded like West Country accents ‘Well I don’t really mind, ‘e seems like a nice lad’, it did nothing to make me reconsider my conviction that the Falkland Islands were nowhere near Argentina.

So, mock away. I know it’s terrible and I know there’s no excuse, but I’m just not good at Geography.

Now I’m going to escape the hullabaloo by driving to Brunei.