Warden no more

Hall is empty of students again. I still have my own flat here for the next three months, but Hall isn’t Hall without the students. So this is my last post about being an Assistant Warden and about living among 19-year-olds. It’s been quite a big theme in my life and in my blogging for the last three years. Hopefully, I find a similarly preposterous living situation in the future to write about.

The Warden had his Assistant Wardens over to his house for an end-of-year dinner a few weeks ago. He also invited next year’s Assistant Wardens to the dinner. Our replacements. Not one of the newbies is a PhD student. They’re all college staff and I can’t help but feel that they will change the culture in Hall fairly substantially. When I started as an Assistant Warden, nine of the eleven of us were PhD students; next year, it will only be three out of eleven.

I’ve really enjoyed the Warden’s dinners since I arrived here. Even now, I still feel like I’m “getting away with something” when I’m invited to eat with the grown-ups. And the Warden and his wife are great hosts.

I remember being very afraid of the Warden. And I remember spending most of my first year as an Assistant Warden being convinced that he thought I was useless. And then last September he discovered the blog and I ended up shutting it down.

But as time has gone by, I’ve realised that he actually does like me. He takes me with a pinch of salt, but he likes my ridiculousness. At this dinner, he played only two songs, both Johnny Logan, both for my benefit, as the crowd as a whole could not be described as pro-Eurovision. He and his wife both promised to come and see my Vegas show when I described it for them in glittering and glittery detail. At the end of the night, he said “Connor, I have a job that you’ll love. Would you blow out all the candles?”

Every year, at this dinner, the Warden presents each of the departing Assistant Wardens with a gift. He said a few nice words and gave each of the departing five Assistant Wardens a book. With a little prompting, I also gave a speech. Only me, not any of the others who were leaving. I talked about how the first time I had seen the whole team of Assistant Wardens together that it reminded me of an AA meeting, that I thought there was no way such a disparate and downright odd group of people could ever successfully work together. But that I had been proved wrong. And Hall is a wonderful place and all the elements play their part and the Warden is a wonderful influence as he genuinely does want all the residents to have a true college experience. I meant everything I said in the speech and of course, got a little emotional. You’ll know when I’m talking about something that makes me emotional. I always put my right hand over my heart, as if I’m about to pledge allegiance to something. The dinner was exactly as it should have been.

Last Thursday was the students’ last night in Hall. And it was different from the last two “last nights in Hall” I experienced. Last year, I spent the entire day wanting to have A Moment. A Significant Moment. This year, while I didn’t lose my love of drama overall, I didn’t spend the last day waiting for A Moment.

Last year, I wanted the entirety of House 87 (“my” house) to break out into a farewell song to me (possibly gospel music, but I didn’t mind). This year I wasn’t really bothered whether I saw any of my 87 people at all. That’s not to say that I didn’t like the students this year – I did – but I never felt a bond with them the way I felt a bond with last year’s freshers.

This year, I made a much bigger effort in September and October to be available to the students in “my” house and to get to know all their names than I did last year. However, I didn’t keep up the momentum. Last November, I worked full time and it kind of killed me. I was at my most overweight ever. I just about did my Assistant Warden duties, but only just. I was working 9:00 – 5:00, eating dinner and sleeping. I was incredibly unhealthy, spending about 12 hours a day in bed, and I could barely cope. So I disconnected from Hall (and from other aspects of my life). November was what inspired my New Years health kick. Added to my November disconnect was a lack of two things. 1. My blog: I only realised this year that literally hundreds of students in Hall last year were reading my blog. No wonder I felt closer to them than our actual relationship merited. This year, the blog was barely online at all during the academic year, and when it was I discovered that I had an online hater. 2. My Boys: none of my Boys from my first year in Hall were still around. I knew this year’s JCR and liked them, but I didn’t know them anything as well as some of last year’s JCR.

This is all just to say that I wasn’t anything as emotional on the last night this year as I was last year.

As we always do on the final day in Hall, we manned the gates in shifts, keeping order. The place was dead. No parties. No craziness. No vomit. All very dull. I kind of wished something would happen. Anything. Just something to make the last night feel like a last night.

My “wish” came true. Quite quickly. At about 10:00 pm, a group of lads ran through House 87, overturning bins, throwing things on the floor and ripping the emergency exit lights off the ceilings in the corridors. We were called in and the drama didn’t last that long.

If there was anyone I wanted to say goodbye to, it was the three people who were in 87 last year and had stayed on in the JCR. As we came to deal with the chaos in 87, all three of them were in the stairwell even though two of them didn’t even live in 87 any more, all of them drunk to one extent or another. It was fate! Two of them drunkenly and over-enthusiastically jumped on me, hugging me with abandon. And that was all I needed out of my last night.

As some of my colleagues went to check the CCTV to try to identify the raiding party who had attacked 87, the rest of us stood in the rain, managing the drunken residents as they boarded buses to a nightclub. In my two years as an Assistant Warden, the only real skill I’ve gained is the ability to shepherd drunk teenagers onto a bus. I’m sure this skill will continue to serve me well in the future.

As we waited for the final bus to arrive, one of the students started talking to me. He’s the one whose tweets led me to discover that my blog was doing the rounds of Hall again this year. At least three times this year, he has drunkenly mentioned it to me and I have pretended not to hear. I had an exquisitely uncomfortable conversation with him about it, trying desperately not to be inappropriate, until the Warden thankfully called me away.

We loaded the last gang onto the last bus and split into groups for one last sweep of Hall. The Warden assigned me to Cunningham House. And so it was that on my last night on duty as an Assistant Warden, the last kitchen I checked for a party was Cunningham 1, the kitchen I shared (and never used) with my Boys two years ago.

Life makes its own poetry.

We weren’t called out of bed that night and everything passed off relatively peacefully.

The next day, parents swarmed over Hall, hungover 19-year-olds packed, said emotional and unemotional goodbyes and drove off.

That evening as I emerged into the Big Courtyard, there was quiet and I saw a selection of items lying together on the ground: a pink toothbrush, a full bottle of shower gel, a tub of cocoa powder and a Cif (née Jif) lemon. I found this group of items funny. Grown-ups don’t leave toothbrushes on the ground outside their house when they move out. This selection of items lay on the ground undisturbed for four days. I was kind of disappointed when they were cleaned away.

One of the fun things to do on the day the students leave Hall is to go into the canteen, which is where they are told to leave everything that can’t be thrown out and they will be recycled or given to charity. Some of these items are inevitably recycled into the ownership of Assistant Wardens or the security staff. This year, the goodies included a hat stand (what 19-year-old needs a hat stand?), about seven open bottles of toilet bleach, three loose toilet rolls, a mound of shoes that looked chillingly like a museum display from a concentration camp, plates, pots, pans, more lids for saucepans than saucepans, bags and bags of spaghetti, two artificial Christmas trees and a bag of tinsel, a bright pink bucket, five televisions, a handheld blender, a DVD player, three irons, three pairs of crutches, shower gel, textbooks, more clothes hangers than you’ve ever seen in your life, mountains of duvets and pillows, soaked with a year worth of teenage juices, a sieve and four strainers, a lemon juicer, some picture frames, oven gloves, enough ethernet cable to wrap around the equator six times over, tinned fruit, a much-cuddled soft toy and a rail of clothing.

The only thing I took this year was a beautiful rainbow-coloured umbrella, which has added no end to my enjoyment of rain.

On Friday night, as Hall was quiet, I decided to mark the end of an era. I took my rainbow umbrella out into the rain and danced around my favourite lamppost in Ireland, the one in the lawn outside Cunningham, which will eventually be my first horcrux when the time comes.

Then I did my annual pilgrimage into Cunningham 1, where I lived two years ago. I sat in the kitchen for a while and felt very little, but then I walked down the corridor where my bedroom had been. Memories came rushing back at such speed that I felt I was being vomited two years into the past. I stood in the corridor, with its grim institutional bright orange doors and had my memories, lots of them, and left.

While I was dancing around the lamppost and while I was having my memories in Cunningham, I was listening to the same song on repeat: Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson’s “I know him so well”

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally

Looking back I could have played it differently
Won a few more moments, who can tell

Wasn’t it good?
(Oh so good)
Wasn’t he fine?
(Oh so fine)
But in the end he needs a little bit more than me
I know him so well

If there’s a better song for feeling nostalgic, I don’t know it.

I’ve loved my time in Hall. And of course I’ve over-sentimentalised it, because that what I do. But I’m glad that that chapter is done now. There are a lot more adventures to be had.

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