I had a place at Imperial College in London to read Materials Science. I had always wanted to spend some time in the centre of the universe, London and here was my chance. I was excited by the prospect.
I applied for a place in Halls of Residence and I was given a shared room in an old victorian Mansion called Garden Hall. The room was magnificent and about 20ft high but because it was so large I had to share it with two other guys. They didn't seem to need any sleep. To make matters worse the room had a huge set of interconnecting doors which lead into another large room where another 3 guys were due to sleep.
After about 2 weeks we decided that it would be better to move all 6 beds into one room and use the other as a sitting room. That completely removed any idea of a decent nights sleep. I used to sneak back in between lectures when I knew only the cleaners would be around and crawl into bed to catch up on some sleep.
For the first couple of weeks I seemed to have cracked the ability to talk to girls. I met a couple of guys in the bar on the first night and we got chatting to 3 ladies. We agreed to meet up a couple of days later when the other guys would demonstrate their culinary skills. They schemed and dreamt up a menu which started with gazpacho ( a cold garlic soup, in this case) and moved on through a couple of courses. As the evening progressed we drank huge amounts of alcohol. It became apparent that the other two sets of guys wanted to form couples which left my lady, who quite clearly didn't want to know me. This was apparent from the fact that she continually discussed the brilliance of her boy friend. As an act of charity to the others I suggested that we went for a walk. This lasted around 3 minutes before she announced her intention to go.
I staggered back to the room and collapsed on my bed, clearly the worse for wear. This became a cause for general hilarity as the remaining occupants took bets on whether I'd be sick or not. Fortunately, I made it to the bathroom in time. I have hated gazpacho ever since.
The result of my drunkenness was that I challenged one of my fellow room dwellers that I could get him drunk for a £1. He agreed and also agreed that he would drink whatever was prescribed. This wasn't quite as crazy as it sounds since beer was then 12.5p per pint. However I relied on a mixture of shorts, beer and orange juice at 3p per pint. My attempt was an abject failure. However it got him in the mood and he spent his own money and finished the job.
We thought it hilarious when he crashed out in his bed and we then moved it under a large table. This meant that when he woke up he would think the ceiling had moved to within 3 inches of his head. We stood around waiting for the vital moment when he woke up the next morning awaiting the scream of anguish. In reality what happened was that he woke up and behaved from then on as if waking up under a table was completely normal.
I got so fed up with not being able to sleep because of the noise, the strangeness of the people and the fact that they were always around, that I went to see the doctor and asked for some sleeping pills. Reluctantly he gave me some. I was so fed up with not sleeping that on the Saturday I decided to go for a really long walk round Hyde Park and get myself tired. I then went down to the pub and crashed out. I woke up and thought that I had only been asleep for a couple of minutes and that I was due another sleepless night. I downed a couple of pills, then I looked at my watch, it was 6.00am. I woke up at 3.00pm that afternoon.
I was completely mesmerised by this new life with complete freedom to do what ever I liked. I floated around absorbing all the new wonders. The department held a welcome to the Material Scientists evening. We played charades (which I'd never heard of) and ate French bread sticks with pate (I'd never seen pate) bought from Harrods.
Garden Hall held a welcome meal and I ate until it was physically painful. I didn't know you could do that. There was a formal freshers meal where you had to drink a yard of ale and your performance was measured and recorded in the Union Bar book. My performance, (slow and wet) was duly recorded.
There were discos every week. The local french institute had some good ones. The local hospitals held them as well. The shops were fantastic. Biba was still open on Kensington High Street which was seconds from where I was staying. Barkers the department store had a basement where they sold china seconds from all the big ocean going liners. Oxford St was just down the road, Harrods and all the glitter was around. The union bar had an electronic ping pong machine. The first I'd ever seen. I was addicted.
It seems amazing now, but I was wandering down Kensington High Street during my second week and I started to feel a bit dizzy. I wondered why, and realised I hadn't eaten anything at all for 3 days. Normal routine had become completely lost in the whirl of meeting new people, going to clubs and generally exploring the centre of London. A quick Mars bar put me back OK.
I met a girl, a ballerina no less, at a disco who told me she had 3 ambitions in life. The first was to see Jesus Christ Superstar, the musical. The second was to see Godspell, the musical. The third was to dance naked in the fountains at Trafalgar square at New Year. We only managed two of the three and then she moved her digs to the far side of London and in those days with poor communications that was that.
I guess somewhere amongst all this activity I must have actually done some work and passed an exam or two. I recall that I bought some second hand books somewhere along the line. I definitely don't recall any intellectual discussions about the meaning of life.
One Saturday night the other guys met a couple of girls, one of whom claimed to be getting married the next week. They stayed the night in our 6 man room. Sleep for me was impossible. With Christmas coming I realised I was going to be dead if I carried on living in the same room as 5 other guys. I went to the student accommodation office and they fixed me up with a room in a council flat in a place called Ham.