Considering one of my children fought for her life overnight in the community hospital, another violently copulated with her brother at the bottom of the travelator, my youngest is no longer speaking to me after passing out half-naked thirty minutes before the foam fight, and the rest of my rowdy brood have no memory of my Raisin party last week, I feel qualified to write on the joys of academic families.
‘Academic family’ is the University-sanctioned term for when third years go to the Union, meet virginal freshers and like the idea of being called ‘mama’. They adopt them, abuse them, beat them into submission and finally parade them through the streets, dragging shackles behind them to face the frothy wrath of the Monday morning foam fight.
Though some would see it as a maternal failure that my children are no longer speaking to me, I see it as a success. In my mind academic families should have the same dynamics as their biological counterparts. Every parent has that child – in my case, the one that passed out in the grounds of an abandoned mansion with one eye spinning furiously in its socket. And no family reunion is ever complete without a drunken brawl. In the same way that no one will ever forget my real Mum’s 50th birthday thanks to my 4”8 Sri Lankan grandmother chuckling whilst vomiting lager all over a wall, my kids won’t forget attacking each other in my garden armed with bows, arrows and balloons full of milk.
This year I took some inspiration from my own academic parents, who I remain very much in touch with even three years on. My academic mother, now a City lawyer, bought me so much champagne at my 21st in July that I was ejected from my own birthday party, long before the bells struck ten. Back in my first year, she turned her whole house into a farm including bails of hay and almost-live livestock. Three days previously she had found £200 on the 99B bus and used it to stock an impressive Raisin bar.
Penniless but determined to emulate my mother’s efforts, I transformed my home into a jungle. Early on the Saturday I wheeled a suitcase out of town and filled it with wood that I then used to build a muddy canopy in my sitting room. Wondering how to get all six of my children wasted without having to extend my overdraft (again) I could think of only two words: Dragon Soop. For those of you unfamiliar with the drink, it is a British version of the controversial American 4 Loko brand. Containing fortified vodka, Taurine and more caffeine than the University library, it seemed to be the best option available to start off my home-brewed moonshine. Fifteen cans of the stuff, mixed with seven litres of vodka, gin and rum later and my kids were rolling down Kinnessburn Road trying to remember their own names. All apart from the one who until Wednesday I thought was dead, having waved her goodbye in a taxi as she gurgled “Help Me, Help Me” long before the others were done.
There were some aspects of my mother’s party however, that I thought it best not to imitate. After the farmyard playtime had drawn to an abrupt naptime and all members of my family lay strewn across the sitting room to sleep before my father’s dinner, I was approached by an Uncle. After surveying the passers-by out the window, he looked at me and whispered, “Lock the door, close the curtains…and bring me the mirror!”
Not sure what was happening, I did as instructed. "The mirror?"I asked, "Off the wall?"
If it wasn't already abundantly clear, i cam to university desperately innocent. The less naive among you can probably guess what he emptied on said mirror, declaring, "Bet you didn't know I was St Andrews' biggest dealer!" I wasn't really sure how to respond.
“No, no, I didn’t…” I said before hastily retreating, calling my father and escaping to his house to help him prepare the meal. While my mother was wild and creative, my father had decided to sit us in his conservatory with bottles of red wine and read us The Wind in the Willows by candlelight. He is still one of my closest confidantes.
Academic families create a support network. They show you what life looks like as a third or fourth year, and give you opportunities to escape from the claustrophobia of first year halls. My father would write ten page plays and then hold arts and crafts sessions with me and my siblings – making costumes and masks and then performing to his housemates. The same grandmother who threw up at my real mother’s 50th still asks after ‘Daddy’ when she calls to see how I am doing, and when I wasn’t sure whether to stop my own children’s incest unfolding before my eyes, he was the first person I called.
My mother worked at one of the town’s coffee shops and would sneak us free smoothies and sandwiches when we were tired of the university catering service. She would take us to terrifying parties in cottages out of town and lived on a houseboat. Though one of my sisters has now eloped to Scandinavia to live with the architect she met on her year abroad, my other sister now lives five houses down from me and remains one of my best friends. The joy of academic families is that they build friendships, give you an insight into the future and most importantly of all, always provide great anecdotes.
The views expressed are not those of Owl Eyes editorial team.