GHOST U

Early Sunday. I sleep fitfully; presumably this building’s been in mothballs over summer, and the pipes and vents are gurgling and coughing their way back to life. At 7.15am I head for the kitchen to make my first cup of tea in my new home.

I’ve still got the place to myself. Eight bedrooms in a postgrad building, and I haven’t seen a single person in the entire 20-flat block yet. Only one of the eight cupboards in the shared kitchen/lounge is full (mine.) Outside, only the geese are wandering about.

A memory comes rushing back: a computer game from the 80s, those primitive-but-thrilling text adventures by Infocom. ‘The Lurking Horror’. It was set in a University, and there was something in the game’s background, stalking you, always there, terrifying. Those text-only games were as immersive as any thriller novel.

This deserted campus feels like that University.

Is there a reason I hadn’t heard of Warwick University until I started researching MBAs? Is there a reason it… isn’t in Warwick?

Have I somehow enrolled at … GHOST UNIVERSITY?

Some sort of dimension-wandering educational apparition, popping up for a few days here and there all over the cosmos, picking up lost souls like the Black Pearl did evil sailors?

Perhaps it feeds itself on creative wanderers like me. When you’re feeling down, as I was earlier this year, it senses your pain, and ‘makes itself available’, carefully inserting itself into your consciousness and scooping you into its dreaming maw. To the University, I am food.

Are the geese and ducks outside merely… the shades of past souls Ghost U has absorbed?

Now it has me, it will surely dematerialise soon, and reappear in some distant galaxy to collect more educationally erratic miscreants. I am on campus now, drawn into this little self-contained world. There can be no escape.

How many others will share my fate? Or am I the only one?

Mi 1st day at skool.

By Chris. Aged 36 and three quarters.

Yes, I’m here!

I’m officially a fulltime MBA student from today, signed up and on campus. Going all the way, living like a ‘real’ student at Warwick University.

My home for the next year: a 4m x 4m study bedroom in a corridor (the accepted nomenclature in eduland is ‘flat’) bookended by a shared kitchen and ‘lounge’. The inverted commas are because there are no sofas in it. Although it’s just 36 hours until the first lecture (I’m writing this Saturday night pre-weblink), there doesn’t seem to be anyone else (of 8 bedrooms I share the facilities with) here yet. (The U has 1000 postgrads enrolling this week. The week after, some 16,000 undergrads arrive. I have a week to prep myself for that.)

Somehow, amid the heroic volume of luggage I packed into my sister’s SUV, I forgot the very basics: a wire to connect me to the University net, a plate to eat off, a corkscrew. Especially the corkscrew. (Got my folding knive/fork/spoon set – because I take that everywhere – but technically I still ‘forgot’ kitchenware.)

But the University itself is really rather nice.

My quarters are sort of like a midrange hotel: clean room, ensuite, big desk and lots of power sockets. A single bed – haven’t slept in one of those for ages – but a great location: my (large) window overlooks the quadrangle formed by the various buildings so I’ll know what’s going on, and the building itself is adjacent to a little river that runs through campus, a little wooden bridge spanning the water nearby. I always wanted to spend some time on a University campus with a river and a bridge.

It has an ensuite bathroom, with an actual bath.

It has a desk with lots of shelves.

It has an unfeasibly large noticeboard.

Outside, the ducks and geese walk around everywhere, unafraid.

The central campus is 10min away on foot, a simple path past setting sun and green fields and assorted buildings with names like Physics, Humanities, Engineering. That’s why I chose Warwick. A real University, not a thousand-year reputation like Oxford or Cambridge, but a solid top-tier name that earned it through giving value and sweating effort. I already like this place.

Slightly outside the main campus – where the ‘Warwick: Intellectual Capital’ banners cease – is the Varsity Pub, a pleasant drinking hole where we have lunch. (My younger sister, who did all this stuff a decade ago, has brought me up with her husband in her thankfully capacious SUV.) It’s a good place. ‘Unreal’ somehow, from the ‘If you were my homework, I’d be doing you now’ greetings cards (you choose a slogan, then fill in your name and email and hand it to the student you fancy) to the incredible array of sex toys in the toilets. (They’ve come on from condoms: mini-vibrators and inflatable attachments are in vogue from £1.) This detached-from-reality is what I like.

I feel…. excited, yet at peace.

Maybe this, in the end, is my strength. I can adapt to anything. After just a few hours, this place seems like home. A mob of buildings from the ultramodern to the redbrick traditional, yet they all hang together. The Physics Department (which looks like a high-tech establishment.) The Social Studies (which is trying hard to be taken seriously but is architecturally lightweight.) The Business School (solid and reassuringly competent.) It all works. And the central campus – Student Union, Arts Centre – is totally Flash Gordon, all spiky spires and whizzy blocky geometry reaching to the sky for the sheer thrill of it.

Everytime I step back and think ‘What the f**k am I doing here?’, the reality kicks in and I admit I’m enjoying the adventure. Driving in today, I almost had butterflies for the first time in decades.

And comforting. Like being part of a big family. Eating my CostCutter curry off a plastic plate tonight, I can see the other Lakeside buildings coming alive as students arrive, people exploring their kitchens and the common areas, new and exciting.

My iPod’s feeding Bowie through Cambridge Soundworks. It’s rare I listen to music, even in the background. But you’ve got to have it in a campus bedroom.

I think – far from any capital or capital flow, in a land I was born in with no danger of collapse or coup or any of the edgy experiences which I thought made life worth living – this could, perhaps, be the best year of my life.

Happy tonight, I think.