I’ll confess, I think I almost enjoyed lockdown at first: cycling to work without the roar of cars all around me, and the novelty of being able to walk down a near-empty high street was enthralling, if a little eerie. The hard reality of our government’s decision to shut down society hit home soon enough though; I lost a planned seasonal job that was due to start at the beginning of May, and so was forced to spend an additional 3 months in a job I disliked, working even longer hours due to greater demand. Much as I love my family, you can grow sick of the same faces after a while, and not being able to see friends certainly had an effect on my mental health – and the incessant screeching of the fear-mongering media could leave anyone in a nervous fit. In an unfathomable irony, during the ‘peak pandemic’, university was my glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Freshers week, however, could have been far worse – at Glasgow it’s been the subject of some controversy, so I’ll spare myself a lawsuit in sparing you the detail, but if you take a group of young people, most of whom won’t have been away from home before for longer than a school trip, it takes only a few braincells to know that they’re going to find creative ways of having fun – restrictions or not. We enjoyed smatterings of the usual activities, yet everything was tinged by the times we live in. Drinking, meeting new people, and poor attempts at cooking – all hallmarks of many students’ first steps into adulthood, were juxtaposed with the regular police patrols through halls, often harassing people for the heinous sin of congregating in the street. The university’s own security staff swaggered around like trumped up soldiers, complete with high vis vests and body cameras. Even in the early days, whispers of positive cases and self-isolating flats permeated conversation.
Of course, nobody signs their life away for three or four years solely for the purpose of becoming a drunken mulch – yet students’ education too, is one of the worst affected victims of our government’s ineptitude. I do enjoy watching my pre-recorded lectures, in as much as I enjoy my subject. But without wishing to denigrate – as I know lecturers, many of whom would rather be teaching face to face, have worked hard for the most part – the experience doesn’t strike me as being different from just watching something that someone would put on YouTube (the key distinction being the former doesn’t carry a nine grand price tag). The dynamic pedagogy of being in a lecture theatre with an ideally poorly shaven late middle-aged guy rambling about some minutiae of theory whilst pacing at up and down, simply cannot be replicated virtually.
My first few online seminars have not exactly endeared me to the genre – plagued by connection problems, lecturers who don’t know how to use the software, and awkward, frustrating interactions with strangers, it’s so far removed from the experience of university education I had looked forward to whilst studying for my A Levels. The first few 2-hour seminars were never going to be easy for someone with an attention span befitting of the worst Gen-Z stereotypes but being in front of a laptop in my room, surrounded by temptation, was worlds worse. They at least had the courtesy to give us a 10-minute break, ensuring my eyes didn’t turn completely square.
These last few days it feels as though Murano street, my halls of residence, is the centre of a whirlwind – every day you hear about new cases, new flats locking down, and new restrictions on our nascent freedom. Absent from this however, are new hospitalisations – for none of the hundred-plus COVID-positive students at the University of Glasgow has this been necessary. This is a fact rarely alluded to by the media, and points to the central absurdity of our situation – UK and Scottish governments have consistently neglected those that needed protecting, such as residents of care homes, whilst hyper-regulating those at least risk – those younger people, who are also most necessary to restoring growth and sanity to a country racked by the worst recession in living memory.
Meanwhile, the media focuses on us: we’ve been namechecked on Sky News, the BBC, and seemingly every paper. We’ve had TV and press crews shoving cameras up people’s noses, and for one day a mobile testing clinic was placed slap bang in the middle of the halls, replete with roadblocks and security. Is this a student hall or the set of a prison documentary, I’m often loathed to wonder?
Even while writing this, the restrictions grow like an unwanted rash. Scottish CMO (Chief Misery Officer) Jason Lietch announces seeing your parents is no exception to the draconian ban on household visits. Nicola Sturgeon, First Sinister of Scotland, announces a ban on students going down the pub. In a move unseen since Cromwell, Matthew Han(g myself)ckok takes the decision to literally ban Christmas. The cherry on the cake? The media, when not releasing a spiel of impending doom narratives of a second wave, seeks to portray students as drunken louts, vessels of disease and squalor, best to be glared at from a distance – a selfish morass content to enjoy themselves at the expense of the elderly and vulnerable.
We are not, in fact, a selfish generation – as a matter of fact, we take far fewer liberties than any generation preceding us by decades. We smoke less, drink little and commit few crimes. Young people today are surely amongst the most socially conscious, even to the extent where it’s occasionally frustrating. We’ve had our education stultified, social lives stifled, and we are already bearing the brunt of the COVID restriction’s economic impact – yet most of us take the precautions we deem sensible, despite being almost entirely invulnerable to this illness. So next time you see one passed out in a bush near you, throwing up on public transport, or at your local off-license buying up all the WKD, try to have just a little sympathy for the student – and please, Mister Hancock, will you let us have our Christmas?