Kill me, it’s freshers
An essay by Xavier Chapman
Father is in an incomprehensibly good mood as he drops me off outside my Halls of Residence. Throwing my luggage on to the pavement and driving off with a big grin on his face. Out of sight, and mind. A relief, I suppose.
I couldn’t face a year in Stoke Bishop, with the other private school kids who couldn’t quite cut it. ‘Which college did you apply to?’ I have to get away from it. Wills, Churchill. Those sandstone deceptions, sickly imitations of the real thing.
In to the City Centre halls, Unite House with the international students. These Shenzen millionaires have no idea what they are missing out on; they have never even heard of the Corpus Christi Bop. Kings Affair. University for them is an uncultured, corporate affair. Living the parallel lives that the internationals tend to do; ones of extravagant conspicuous consumption. Trotting around cafes like the ‘Boston Tea Party’, decked out in Commes des Garcon and Bape. Just enough branding on the sleeves and across the chest to send a signal.
I think it tasteless. But perhaps this idea of ‘taste’, a very British concept, is really just a coping method for the downwardly mobile upper middle class.
Gregory Clark would have us all believe that the fecundity of the well-to-do made Britain a wealthy country – perhaps he is right. An industrial revolution, made possible by the many industrious. But another scar of that demographic transition; the eternal proliferation of the desperate snobbery of Middle England. What was lost on split inheritances and private school fees, reclaimed with sneering about large televisions and hot tubs.
Truly, it is a mark of a civilisation in decline to stigmatise the excesses of wealth.
I ponder my own open suitcase, what my clothes say about me. The Carhaart fleece; formal day dress for a young man of my social background. A Ralph Lauren shirt, with a little bear, which makes it better. Kenzo long sleeved tee that will stay firmly in the drawer. Dickies trousers, with a fit that is a bit too straight.
And a small post-it, affixed to a Twenty-pound note.
Just a little something to keep you and your new little friends going.
I bend over to pick it up, disturbing the pillow case it was laying on.
And out come my new little friends.
Hundreds of black dots begin swarming out of the suitcase and in to every crevice of the room. I recognise father’s ‘the dead man’s switch’ immediately. Normally triggered when a tenant refused a rent rise and moved out. A colony of bed bugs in the luggage, and all bank accounts frozen through a contact at Prevent, on the grounds of counter-terrorism.
Father has cultivated strong relationships with the bugs and spiders which infest his properties, or ‘stakeholders’ as he puts it. I have never seen so much as a woodlouse in the garden of our Islington townhouse. A childhood innocent of insects.
When Tim Chapman sends a bedbug, he’s sending the very best. The elite. The Uruk-Hai. Chemical treatments, washing your clothes on a high temperature; just forget about it. You could burn your house down with all of your possessions inside, and still wake up with fresh bites in the morning. This albatross will be around your neck for as long as you cling on to life.
I consider my position. To clean, or not to clean? It’s a futile effort to go through with a wash, but on balance, probably making a symbolic gesture now will make me feel better after the plague inevitably spreads out through the tightly packed halls of residence.
Twenty pounds doesn’t stretch to drying the clothes too, so I have to lug my wet clothes up to my room to let them air dry. Shirts and underpants hanging off every knob on every drawer. Everything has to be done at once, to even make a dent.
As I lay there, naked, on my uncovered mattress, with the window open to stop mould forming, listening to the bugs happily burrowing in to the cavities of the wall, I think back to those twenty minutes, with that tutor. Every stumble, around books I hadn’t really read, every missed chance to say something clever. Witty. Wry even.
While I spend my first night of university, shivering, naked and alone, I think of the matriculation that should have been. The sweeping gowns, the buttery, the glasses of wine in cavernous halls with pitch black windows.
Membership to the club. A life worth living. It all hinged on one twenty-minute chat.
One that I will replay in my mind,