Richard Herring: I survived the passing out parade
Wednesday 4 Jun 2014
I realise with disbelief that it’s 25 years since I left university. I am not only heartbroken by the rapid passage of time but amazed that I have survived for a quarter of a century as an independent and ostensibly grown-up human being.It can’t be 25 years. I still feel like I’m 21, unless I am walking up some stairs. Where did the time go? It’s like I’m one of those unfortunate teenagers who falls into a coma and wakes decades later to find the world is unrecognisable and they themselves are inexplicably leathery and wrinkly. Except I’ve been awake for at least eight hours a day, every day, for the past 25 years, so have no excuse for not having spotted things were changing or for thinking that Margaret Thatcher is still PM.
In a sense, I am lucky to have had these extra years because I nearly died on the evening of my final exam. My friend, Emma, decided to buck tradition and rather than greet me outside the examination halls with a bottle of champagne, instead handed me a bottle of whisky.
I’d spent the previous three years trying to prove I was clever enough to earn a degree (I’d mainly been eating crisps and writing comedy, if I’m honest) but in the next two hours I would demonstrate that fancy book-learning is no match for common sense and that a degree in Hard Knocks from the University Of Life is a better qualification than a 2:1 in Modern History from Oxbridge College.
Perhaps universities should do away with written examinations altogether and put on a series of simple but life-threatening challenges that will sort out who deserves to live. Like an academic Hunger Games.
Anyone with even the slightest glimmer of intelligence would surely have a sip of whisky and then put it away to enjoy over the next few months. I drank two-thirds of the bottle in 90 minutes.
Predictably, by 7pm I was feeling a little dizzy and unwell. I had enough sense to know that I needed to get to the toilet fast but not enough to realise that I should have been kneeling in front of the bowl, not sitting on it. I spewed out the malty contents of my stomach all over the toilet floor. It spread in front of me like a Biblical flood but with more carrots in it.
I sat watching all this happen, incredulous and unable to work out what I was doing wrong. An angry bar manager banged on the door and my friends took me outside to get some fresh air.
They were heading into town for a curry and beer and, ridiculously, I decided to join them. I could see no problem with that. Ah, sit in wonder at your intellectual elite, readers.
My contemporaries at university included the prime minister and the Mayor of London. They were in the Bullingdon Club where, for some members, such behaviour (and much worse) was a nightly occurrence. Though their stupidity was tinged with malice and entitlement. Who wouldn’t vote for people like that?
My alcohol binge would surely have killed me but some guardian angel decided this was not my time, grabbed me by the collar and yanked me down the road to my bed. A tiny corner of my otherwise moronic brain retained a vestige of common sense.
I woke up feeling as close to death as it’s possible to be while actually still conscious. Or maybe I drifted into a coma and everything that’s happened subsequently is a weirdly unambitious dream.