I spent two weeks in the same pants

Balliol College Oxford — October 1973 to April 1974. Graduated Manchester University, June 1978.


Long, long ago, in the days before laptops and iPhones — well, just about exactly 36 years ago — I was driven by a Cypriot Stalinist up the new M40 to begin my short career at Balliol College, Oxford. My trunk followed by rail — except that it didn’t. I spent a fortnight in the same underwear.

Oh the disasters! The bathrooms were so cold you had to undress in the steam. I couldn’t organise a gown so missed matriculation. Hated Jacob Burckhardt so failed German prelims. Got into the politics so much that I missed everything else.

A psychologist would probably decide I was trying to get chucked out. And I was.

There were desultory efforts to help me out, but at 19 I was deemed a big boy and no-one would dig me out of my own hole.

Then, off to Manchester where I ended up with the inspiring (now Sir) Ian Kershaw as tutor and a good degree.
My tips for new students — including my eldest daughter — even things that seem disastrous usually aren’t. Take up running and do not take up smoking. Do a bit of politics, if you like, but not at the expense of art, culture and lectures. Anticipate the visits of the Christian Society by mugging up on your Dawkins or your Bible. It is extraordinary how little they know about their own religion.

David Aaronovitch is an author, broadcaster and JC columnist

    Last updated: 1:58pm, October 8 2009