Step 3. Beware the wildlife
A. War of the Ducks
Dormitories are often on beautiful campuses, maybe even complete with parks or ponds. Mine in Sheffield was no different. But never forget that despite its beauty, that deadly creatures roam the British countryside and sometimes they make there way into cities. Of course I’m referring to ducks, the assholes of the bird community (they literally flash them at you whenever they dive headfirst into water). Sheffield ducks are no less antisocial. But the scary thing about them was the mystery behind their origin; where did they come from? There were no bodies of water near my dormitory. We might have been on the edge of the city but we were still heavily urbanised, and yet come 3pm every day their gangs would arrive. Ruffling their feathers, heads held high like they owned the place. Always in packs of 3 or 4. Sometimes a mother and her hoard of ducklings, who seemed cute at first as they waddled desperately after her in a line, until a student was foolish enough to get closer. Then they’d swarm. Whatever poor student there was at the mercy of their snapping bills and angry squeaky quacks until the student fled. The male ducks were even more aggressive, not just to us but to each other. If one found something to eat, there’d be a nasty scrap between them as each struggled to win the meal. But armed only with their bill and a bad attitude, they were unable to seriously injure each other. In a three-way struggle, one would get hold of the food and suddenly make a break for it, leaving the other two to fight it out but it wouldn’t be long before the others gave chase to resume the struggle. From my window I saw these same three ducks gradually make their way across the campus over the course of an hour in unending battle. I pity the student who tried to break them apart. I was once confronted myself outside the entrance of my apartment. The duck had been passing casually but when he saw me he stopped dead, head turned in my direction with menacing eyes, blocking my exit out of the campus. I took a step back inside and closed the door slowly, so as to not encourage a charge. Satisfied with my reaction, the duck finally sauntered on and I left as soon as he went round the corner. If you find them in your campus, please remember to respect your local duck gangs, or they’ll be all over you inn an angry heap of feathers and useless bills.
Perhaps not wild to begin with but, many students will have pets in their rooms in spite of the rules against them. Fish are fairly common and nothing to worry about (until they leap for freedom and you have the heart attack of getting them back in the bowl before they suffocate. The death of a goldfish is tragic thing). But one student brought a Chinchilla with them (for those of you who aren’t aware, Chinchillas are possibly one of the cutest creatures you’ll ever encounter, with the softest fur imaginable. I may or may not want to hug a chinchilla at the moment). They are however rather fast and have a tendency to bite when scared. So when he escaped his cage, sightings of the illegal chinchilla came with a mix of awe and fear. People claimed they saw him in the flower gardens, others said they found him nestled in the tree roots. Every time you’d hear a girl scream as he flashed past her feet to find a new hiding spot and a mob of curious students would go in search of the famous Chinchilla which nobody could agree was real or not. But he was real. I saw him. And I screamed just as much as that girl did when he ran past me into the bushes. Don’t let the myths fool you. The ghost chinchilla is real and he stalks the dorms of Sheffield in search of his owner. You amy come across your own stray pets in your area so when you’re buying your coat hangers and cooking utensils for the day you move out of your parents home, don’t forget the wildlife essentials too; thick gloves and a butterfly net.
Step 4: Don’t embrace community spirit
A. Fire alarms
The fire alarms will go off frequently in the first week. It’s unavoidable safety procedure unfortunately but don’t rest easy when that first week is up. The students will want a crack at starting some fire drills too. Over a 6 month period, we suffered up to 4 alarms each week, usually during the night while we were in bed. Sometimes they smashed the alarm by accident while drunk, sometimes on purpose. Most days they were trying to break into a room they shouldn’t or they wouldn’t open a window while cooking and the smoke set off the alarm. One time, a girl took a shower with the door open and the steam from the water set it off (I wish I was making that up). We’d all have to wait outside in the cold for 30 minutes every time while we waited for security to check everything and in the meantime I would marvel at how ill prepared everyone was for the alarm. Guys only in their boxers hopping up and down against the cold, plenty of girls in pyjamas without shoes and a few in woolly bathrobes. The girl with the shower came out in just wrapped in a towel but she wasn’t cold; far too many guys crowding round to chat and too many female friends to help protect her modesty. If only we had Morgan Freeman, it could have been march of the penguins with us all huddling together for warmth, shifting from foot to foot. Sometimes the fire alarms would come one after another, 2 maybe 3 in a row with an hour between them. The worst was four alarms, the last one going off at 4am. I watched students come outside with no coat and no shoes four times that night, either because they were crazy, stupid or they really wanted to get out of exams with hyperthermia. I had been ready though and you should be too. Like me, always prepare alarm-clothes beside your bed; easy to wear top and bottoms, socks, boots and thick coat on standby, all laid out on a table or chair for quick access. You won’t have time to search for clothes when the panic hits you. Lastly, sleep light. Insomnia can have its redeeming moments too.
If you open your window and see someone lying on the concrete steps with a pool of blood building around their head, then please don’t panic. That person was only murdered. At least this is what I thought when I saw this outside my apartment, but when a passerby rushed over to help, I saw an arm move so murder got down-graded to attempted murder (not nearly as exciting but far more encouraging. If you ever meet an attempted-murderer, rest assured they probably suck at killing people). How this student came to be using a stone step as a pillow I don’t know, but it was later rumoured that he fell (or was pushed! Keep that spinning going) from his bedroom window after trying to climb out; incredibly stupid as that might sound (and yes I’m aware of how hypocritical that is of me to say). So when you found a pool of blood on your campus, don’t believe the rumours that a killer is on the loose (or do because it’s cool and you can never be too careful. Look away from the screen and check behind you. Do it now. Safe?). Finally, try to avoid climbing tall building; leave it to the parkour guys or spiderman (because he’s real. You just haven’t seen him yet)
C. Finding company
Like every other apartment, mine was joined to another. Boy’s apartment on the left side of the building and girls on the right. The door separating the apartments was always locked of course; I think it was there purely as a fire escape which is ironic considering it was always locked (don’t you think dormitories sound so safe so far?). Occasionally we’d hear the girls next door if they chatted in their hallway but for the most part we were unaware of each others close proximity. Until of course my flatmates decided they wanted to go out to meet girls but were too drunk and lazy to actually leave the apartment. So the ‘convenience’ of female neighbours was far too much to bare it seems. I wasn’t around at the time as i was visiting friends but I got back late at 1am that night and found half the ceiling crumbling down in the hallway (the first bad sign, if it’s hard to follow). I followed the trail of plaster rubble through my apartment and found security bunched up at the end. They were crowded around the fire exit door, which had splintered after being kicked down and left to hang precariously off it’s one remaining hinge. A group of girls in their pyjamas were on the other side hurriedly explaining to another security officer what had happened. When everyone turned to face me, I suffered a wave of accusations and threats of disciplinary action as I was cast in with the others (because a completely sober and sane person would wreck the ceiling before destroying a door in order to have a chat). When I finally explained my innocence, I was asked who had broken the ceiling tiles. The culprit was missing. So with utter horror I exclaimed ‘I don’t know. Wait. Oh my god, is one of my drunk flatmates in the ceiling!? Did he break it in order to climb up and into the other apartment!?’. It’s a terrifying thought, knowing a true idiot might be hovering above you right this minute. It was like that scene from ‘Aliens’ when their barricades become useless thanks to the vents. Except this was far scarier. Luckily he hadn’t been able to reach high enough and feeling defeated, had passed out a floor below on his way to get help. The moral of this story is, know where everyone is. The idiots you live with, the cliché girls next door, the angry security guards and most importantly, whoever might be hiding behind those ceiling tiles love your head. Drop-bears aren’t an Australian myth; they’re just lonely assholes who’ve had too much to drink.
Your time at university will be a glorious one if you seize opportunities when you can and you take the necessary steps to survive. Remember, whenever any of these issues comes up you always have two options. Face them, as a responsible mature adult. Or run away and avoid them at all costs.