“Welcome, second-years!” is one of the most surreal sounds I’ve heard for quite some time. Like… you talkin’a me?
Yes, he was talkin’a me, because I’m a second year vet student. No longer bottom of the dogpile, I’m a tried-and-tested, officially-matriculated specimen with a year under my belt. But there was no time for speculation about how far I’d come, because on the Monday of Freshers’, all hands were on deck moving stuff from the car into my new flat, before leaving to buy more stuff for the flat, and then receiving and unpacking all of my belongings from storage… and putting them into the flat.
Anybody who is returning to university, or indeed starting out for the first time, will be struck by just how much stuff is required to support one individual for nine months. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard of people travelling around the world for three months with just a backpack. In fact, this moving-in process is enough to reject the story of Noah’s Ark simply on the basis that, if Noah were anything like me, the ark wouldn’t have the capacity for his belongings, never mind animals as well.
I kid you not, when I saw all of my stuff piled upon every surface of my room, I genuinely believed that there was no way it was all going to fit into the storage I had available. By the very laws of matter itself, the volume of my stuff must exceed the volume of the places I could put it all. My belief was further reinforced when this was the state of the place only halfway through the process:
Where on Earth has all this stuff come from!?
But, whether by magic or by sheer force of will, everything found a home. And my room, though smaller than the one at Pollock, is very cosy indeed. This is a first-floor, four-bedroom flat in a block of similar flats, all owned and rented out by a student living company. This is by far the best way to go about things, as I see it, because it’s so straight-forward. There’s a set rent that includes all utilities, and there’s no dodgy landlords. There’s a maintenance man at the end of the phone, a mail service, study spaces, and a 24 hour security line. I have my own room, and the four of us share a common kitchen living room. The view from my window isn’t quite the spectacular vista from last year, and is currently filled with noisy construction workers most hours of the day! But the kitchen has floor to ceiling windows that overlook one of the city’s largest and most central green spaces.
The bus stop is just a couple of streets away, and is so much more direct, taking just 30 minutes via an altogether different route to ‘The Bush’. The new walk through the park and the new, shorter bus route is so refreshing. I’m now situated right on the north edge of The Meadows, which is just next door to the main university campus and all the amenities it offers.
The centre of the city is so close, and the area is busy and alive at all times of the day and night. I might have lost my view of Arthur’s Seat, but the number of gorgeous dogs that walk through the park past my kitchen window certainly makes up for that!
I might have sorted my room, but the misadventures were far from over… we had yet to cook our first meal. The other two flatmates are cooking for themselves, so Rowena and I knew that we’d be pooling our limited cooking skills to make meals for two. What better way to break in the new hob than a straight-forward Mac and Cheese?
All ingredients at the ready, all pans on the hob, all dials set to high, we waited for the butter to melt. A few minutes went by, and the knob sat stubbornly in the bottom of the pan. We looked at each other… maybe the electric hob just takes a while to warm up. It got to the point where even the room temperature should have melted the bloody thing, and so I picked up the pan and tapped the hob with my fingers. The metal was cold.
How could that possibly be? We completed a full examination of the dials, to find they were all on. We then extended our search for other dials on the cooker, of which there were none. And then a red switch caught my eye…”We didn’t turn it on at the wall.”
Once on, the hob proved to be no less of a nightmare. In a struggle to bring things up to temperature, I turned the dials high, only to find that I couldn’t control the vicious boiling that I’d instigated, despite turning the dials right down… which then eventually brought things to a standstill. But I planned ahead and put a dish to heat up in the oven. I then went back to the cheese sauce, which was still pretty watery. I spent some time assuring Rowena that it would “thicken up any minute now”. But over ten minutes later, I was still going, “Yeah, it goes really suddenly. Any minute now.”
Eventually I admitted that this miracle thickening was never going to occur, and we stuck some extra flour and cheese in for a quick-fix. Once we were happy with the macaroni and the cheese sauce, Rowena went to get the dish from the oven. I helpfully said, “Don’t forget the oven gloves!”
Just before I put the macaroni in the dish, I touched it. “Rowena, this dish is cold…like, it’s stone cold.”
Both of us immediately looked to the wall, where another red switch sat in the off position, and then fell about the kitchen with laughter. Possibly the most ridiculous part was that I’d warned her to use oven gloves to retrieve a cold dish from a cold oven.
The final meal was in fact very edible, and thoroughly deserved. I was absolutely astounded that such a series of disasters could possibly arise with such a simple meal. The whole ordeal made me anxious that one day soon, somebody is going to ask me to perform surgery… and I can’t work an electric hob.
Over the next couple of days, I kept trying to do things, only to realise I didn’t own the necessary items to do so. As the list of these necessary items got longer, we decided it was time to get a bus out to a huge Asda on the west side of the city to get what we needed. Having scooted round there, B&Q seemed like the best place to get the remaining stuff. On Google Maps, the nearest B&Q didn’t seem so far away, and so we bussed out there.
But when we disembarked the bus, we found ourselves in the backstreets of a huge industrial estate. Some of the roads we walked weren’t even tarmacked, and we both got increasingly agitated as we tried to find the B&Q. Ultimately, we found it in an enormous shopping complex almost a mile from where the bus dropped us.
It was only when we got to the checkout with all of our clobber that we even considered how we might get it all home. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and so laden with bags and with the leaves of a large pot plant waving over my head, we found a closer bus stop. The ride back took a ridiculous 45 minutes, and it was only then that I realised just how far out of the city we’d been! I’ve been awarding myself adult points for doing mature things, like matching the orange chilli plant with the orange seats of the kitchen. Unfortunately, other misadventures have left me somewhere in the negative single digits.
On Thursday and Friday, I attended a course to become a VetPAL leader. The PAL scheme is a Peer-Assisted Learning program that originated in the University of Missouri, and now runs in many universities across the UK. It targets ‘high risk’ courses such as vet med, and trains a small team to run sessions that help younger students to cope. I attended last year’s sessions as a student, and found them so helpful, mostly in a reassuring way. I wanted to give that reassurance to younger students, because I know how scary it all is. The two days were pretty intensive training, and went into enormous detail about the way people learn and how to lead group sessions. Apart from the satisfaction of giving something back, I’ll also be able to complete the Edinburgh Award, which recognises students for proactive involvement in the university community.
Before I knew it, the weekend was upon us. Last year, we’d got ourselves so caught up with work and trying to get some sound sleep that we’d totally neglected to explore our new home during the free time we did have. Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland, and it’s packed with things to see and do. And yet, if someone had asked me what they should see on a weekend’s visit, I wouldn’t know what to tell them. Do I really know Edinburgh, or just the vet school?
This needed correcting, and so we’ve put together a bucket list of a load of the experiences the city has to offer. And to make a start with it all, Rowena and I set out to find White Horse Close, where the birthplace of William Dick still stands. You may or may not recall, but William Dick was the founder of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies all the way back around 1820. It was no easy task to locate this small nook at the foot of Calton Hill, but when we found it, it seemed to resonate with history. A history that’s now part of our heritage as Dick Vet students.
But we couldn’t walk all the way to White Horse Close and not climb the neighbouring Calton Hill. Calton Hill is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why. At the top, there’s monuments to all kinds of people, and an observatory. You can see the city in every direction from the hill, with Prince’s Street bisecting the city centre to the west and the great Firth of Forth to the north.
What a city.
I suspect it will be a while before I really find the rhythm of university life again, but second year is reputed to be quite enjoyable. The first half of the year covers body systems one at a time, alongside the professional and clinical skills, and more advanced animal husbandry. As it’s Thursday, I’ve already started some of my lectures, so please do tune in at the weekend to find out what they’re like!
I don’t know about you, but I’m excited… bring on Round Two!