5 things you used to need to survive university

One of the posts that I most enjoyed reading last month was written by Lois, called 5 Things You Actually Need to Survive University. Her advice seems sound to me, so if you’re looking for things that might be useful to you as a fresher you really should go there, rather than carry on reading this.

However, Lois’s post made me feel nostalgic for September 1982, which is when I first went to university. This is my equivalent list of five “must haves” from the era of tightly permed hair, legwarmers and space invader machines.

Univeristy of Warwick - Knightcote 123, October 1982
A blurry picture of my room in university halls, 1982, before I realised that I definitely needed my black and white tv and record player to survive (you might just be able to see my cassette tape deck by the orange lamp)

Netflix subscription Portable black and white television. There was no internet (outside of the computer science labs) so one of these providing access to BBC1, BBC2 and ITV, plus membership of the film society, was essential to satisfy the day to day entertainment needs of the 80s student.

Spotify subscription Record player and records. Music was bulky in the 1980s. You needed seriously well-developed muscles to move the stuff around, unless you were fortunate enough to own one of the new-fangled ‘Walkmans’. A (smallish) record player, plus a case of 20 or so LPs was about all that I could fit into my parents’ car after the real essentials had been loaded up.

Unlimited minutes A stock of phonecards. BT phonecards were revolutionary in the early 1980s as they meant that you didn’t have to carry a large stack of coins (of precisely the right value) around with you to use the hall payphone. Phonecards are long gone of course – the last BT payphone that took them was withdrawn from service in the early 2000s. And even if you had remembered to buy one, you still had to have the patience to queue behind many, many other students to use them.

Alarm clock Alarm clocks. The plural ‘s’ was vitally important to the 80s student, as no alarm clock of the period had more than one alarm you could set. It was worse if you only had a wind-up alarm clock (rather than a nice radio alarm tuned into the university radio station of course) as you had to remember to set them in the 12 hours before you needed to wake up. So having 2 or 3 different alarm clocks was essential, particularly during exam periods.

Coffee. The one thing that unites the 1982 and 2015 student is coffee. Lots of it. I’m still drinking far too much of the stuff now. And even mature, distance learning students like me still need it.

For those of you who have made it to the end of this and are due to start at Leicester in the next few days, welcome. I’m sure you’ll have a great time. Don’t forget to bring your legwarmers …


This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 4th September 2015.


When I graduated from Warwick University in 1985, I couldn’t wait to get away from the place.

I don’t think I even returned to the campus until the weekend of my 40th birthday – very nearly 20 years after graduating. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my time there, but initially I couldn’t wait to get out into the world of work and then, after a bit of the shine of having money for the first time had worn off, I didn’t want to go back because I knew I might want to stay. Even the numerous times throughout the 1990s when I visited Sun Microsystems at their offices on the Science Park I made a point of not going onto campus!

I know how ridiculous that sounds. But what I’m about to tell you is equally ridiculous. Probably more ridiculous if I’m being honest.

Having graduated from the OU in December, I’m still lurking around.

Logging into StudentHome and reading the messages and wincing at the redesign; posting the occasional message in support of a social sciences “cafe” in the OUSA forums; reading people’s blogs; looking at the prospectus and even complaining to the OU that the information about postgraduate courses on one of the Open University’s advertising sites potentially breaks the advertising standards authority code of conduct as it’s misleading – you can’t, of course, currently start new postgraduate studies with them in either psychology or the social sciences(*).

So I need to stop lurking and get on with my application to Leicester University if I’m going to have a chance of studying again later on this year. I’ve already had the good news from my employer that they will part sponsor an MSc in much the same way they helped with my BSc, so I’ve no excuse not to get on with my application.

Now, what was the question on their application form that keeps making me smile? Oh yes:

Outline the changes you would make in your work and/or own time in order to accommodate the demands of a postgraduate distance-learning course

Been there, done that, got the scars.

(*) Update 27/02/2012 – the OU has finally updated their advertising site and have removed all references to social science and psychology masters courses.

Soggy Warwick

I’m sitting in the Rootes bar drinking coffee, trying to wake up in time for the final part of the DD307 weekend. On days like these, with the skies grey and overcast and a fine drizzle in the air that soaks everyone it touches, this place really does start to feel like an airport. Even the queue for breakfast felt like the rush for the aeroplane when boarding is called.

It’s been a really useful weekend. But more than that, it’s made the course enjoyable again. I feel quite motivated to revise now. Part of that has been the lectures – but an equal part has been about meeting other students, many for the first time “in real life” who I’ve been talking to in the forums and Facebook pages. It’s been great to see you all! There are also a few people here who I have met before too. Half of my DXR222 project group from Bath in 2008 are here – but doing DD303 revision. But this time, it’s been a more relaxed encounter as we’re all a little more experienced at the OU game and there isn’t the pressure of a project to get done.

I think it’s just starting to properly hit me that October 13th marks the end of the degree, save obsessively looking at StudentHome in December every hour to see if the results are in. And then there’s graduation, of course! I’m looking forward to wearing a gown again and pretending I’m Batman (maybe not).

Still, I have lots of old computers in the attic that need a bit of TLC. I could start a museum – with my Compukit 101 and Sharp MZ-80K taking pride of place. Mmmm. BASIC programming and 6502/Z80 assembler. Lovely.

Time for me to hit “publish”, head over to the Social Sciences building and get soggy again …

Mission improbable – the end of the beginning

My attempt to complete DD307 TMA06 and the SD226 EMA in a bank holiday weekend has now finished. Strictly speaking, it’s ended in failure, but only just. At the end of the weekend I now have a complete DD307 TMA06, a complete Q1 for the SD226 EMA, as well as draft answers and notes for the remaining two questions and experimental project writeup. A couple more evenings work this week should get me there I think.

Which should leave me in a more relaxed mood for the OUPS DD307 revision weekend at Warwick University on Friday and give me a clear run to the DD307 exam on 13th October.

Mission improbable – day 2 progress report

Setting stretch targets(*) obviously works for me!

While I don’t think I will have completed both the DD307 TMA06 and the SD226 EMA by the end of tomorrow in a form I can submit, I do at least now have a complete draft of TMA06 and a set of notes for the first question of the EMA.

My TMA has turned into a bit of a rant at the end and it’s also too long at the moment (2,273 words). I think I therefore need to take some calm down tablets and then, just like Procrustes, lop some bits off to make it fit within the constraints of the word limit. Except that I won’t be mutilating my essay – I’m hoping that surgery will make it better!

The rant I’ve developed wasn’t the one I said I was going to use a couple of days ago, but I’ve chickened out. Instead, I’ve turned into a postmodernist loving, cognitive hating fanboi.

Unfortunately, this conversion has come far too late to rescue any hope of a pass 1 on this module, but it won’t jeopardise my chances of a pass 2. It’s only messing up the exam that will do that, but I’m hopeful that next weekend’s OUPS revision bash at Warwick University will help me avoid that fate.

I hope to see some of you there.

(*) and, of course, if the person was too short for the bed, setting stretch targets is what Procrustes did too 🙂

The career I never had

A tweet on the Warwick University (@warwickuni) feed appeared today with a link to a website created by Stephen Merchant, with clips of his radio show on W963, the university radio station, from the mid 90s. I was around a decade or so earlier, but the photograph he’s posted at the bottom of the page is a very familiar view to me. It’s looking into the main studio at the top of the student’s union building from the control room. I’m pleased to see that the tradition of a messy control room and studio had been maintained even into the shiny 1990s.

Once I’ve got through my DD303 exam on the 18th October,  I’ll head up into the attic and collect together some of my W963 memorabilia and post it on here. I might even see if I can digitise a few of the jingles I used on air from the mouldering collection of C120 tapes I have of my (truly dreadful) shows. They’re the reason radio is the career I never had …