Togas, assassins and the worst nightclub in Europe
Quite a lot has changed since I wrote my last column. First off, I’m a full-blown university student! Everything kicked in on October 30 with “Freshers’ Week,” a time when no lectures take place and first years like myself are expected to sort out paperwork, then socialize in as imaginative a way as possible.
But first, ceremonial proceedings called Matriculation – the act of placing a student’s name upon the “matricula,” or roll of members of the university – have gone on for as long as the university itself, and it is an impressive (if long-winded) process whereby students wear their gowns and sit in the cathedral, are addressed by the Dean and then “extend the hand of friendship” to their fellow students after a representative from each college signs the matricula on their behalf.
As this formal ceremony concluded, I then decided to make a trip into town in order to see the Freshers’ Fair, forgetting that I was still wearing my gown. The funny thing was, no one commented or gave me strange looks as I wandered down the high street like Batman and it flapped behind me like a cloak. Whether people at Durham are used to seeing such a sight or are themselves equally as strange, I’ve yet to decide.
But back to the Freshers’ Fair, a sprawling three-floor event lined with sign-up desks to get into different societies. There was definitely something to cater to every interest, be it the austere (Durham Union Society), charitable (Durham University Charity Kommittee, otherwise known as DUCK), a hobby or interest (Manga and Anime Society) or just the downright bizarre (Assassins Society). The atmosphere was overwhelming and I left the building in a mild daze, having signed up for lots of groups and carrying several free goodies under each arm.
Durham is a collegiate university, much like Oxford or Cambridge, and my school turned out to be St. Mary’s College, formerly an all-girls college just outside of town. The transition from all-women to mixed happened recently, only in 2005, and many of the alumni I knew before coming to Durham had no idea of it. Certain traditions still linger; the motto, for example, remains Ancilla Domini, gracefully translated as “Handmaiden of the Lord,” and inside the main door is a plaque that reads: “Pioneering education for women since 1899.” Inevitably, my friends around Durham and beyond have found this quite funny. Still, despite the whole gender confusion, I’ve settled in extremely well, getting to know my roommate and the people in my corridor.
Before I came to university, dressing up was something that I only really bothered with at Halloween. But now, it’s a way of life. Thus far, my favorite pursuit has been Toga Night, held on the third day of Freshers’ Week. Anyone who has tried to tie a toga before – unusual in Beijing, perhaps, but maybe a good idea during the summer – can attest that it is fiendishly difficult and requires a steady eye, contortionist flexibility and really, really careful steps. Naturally, mine fell apart as soon as I got to the nightclub and I was only spared the fate of baring all thanks to a few well-placed safety pins.
Still, toga or not, no night out can compare with a couple of hours at Klute, the most loved and loathed of all the student hangouts. It was ranked second worst nightclub in Europe by FHM in 1996. Since the worst club, located in Belgrade, subsequently burned down, I suppose that makes Klute the winner by default, and I can personally say the reputation is justly deserved.
Freshers’ Week is now over, and I am happy to say I survived without too much embarrassment. The festivities have calmed down as lectures have started, assignments have been made and deadlines set, and thus far my decision to attend Durham has been without regret. Will this opinion change the next time I write? Stay tuned to see what happens – same bat-time, same bat-channel.