Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Sharing rooms in university of life

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Students shouldn't be so precious about doubling up.
Two to a room? Give it a chance. Photo / Getty Images
Two to a room? Give it a chance. Photo / Getty Images

Many students are moving into hostels this week and preparing to start university. I did that once, many years ago.

I moved into O'Rorke Hall which back then was a spooky, dilapidated, former maternity hospital. (Mean nurses, dead babies; I had an over-active imagination). I arrived with my ghetto blaster, my Bauhaus tapes, my Sylvia Plath books and my eiderdown. (Duvets? Doo-what? )

You got allocated rooms. I was in a double room and had a room-mate. I can't remember her name but she looked like Eva the Bulgarian. I know it must be wrong but in my memory I recall I came up to the middle of her kauri trunk thighs and she wore long white socks on calves like round skittles. She was Nordic looking, although I think she came from Pukekohe, and she played netball and hockey.

She was terrifying. I hated her, for no reason other than I hated most people and she had a soft toy collection. She no doubt loathed me as well.

I would have. I was a fat, angry virgin. I had hair which could later have been the inspiration for Sideshow Bob, constructed from concrete hairspray we called Black Death. I wore white foundation fit for embalming, smelly op shop gabardine overcoats and black stovepipes from Blue Beat, the legs hand-sewn to taper in even tighter so you struggled to get them on over your ankles.

I listened to the Buzzcocks (Orgasm Addict! Chance would be a fine thing) and read Baudrillard. Like a gothic girl Adrian Mole, I aspired to being an intellectual, although with a painful awareness of the many impediments before me, not least that I came from Hamilton. To compensate, I perfected a sneering, withering mien. I could have given Victoria Beckham throwing shade lessons. (Though throwing shade had not been invented in 1985). But I must have been quite good at emanating surliness as Jolly Hockey Sticks moved out quite quickly.

At the time I was pleased, but now I think, shamefully, what a little shit I was. For a while I had the room to myself. This was not without stress, though. It was like boarding a plane for a long flight, getting a free row of seats and then hoping every person that walks down the aisle won't plonk down next to you.

Later, I found out the warden at the hostel warned anyone who needed a room not to bother with me. But one day someone knocked at my door and said she was my new room-mate. I was not initially receptive. But she had the most beautiful, cultured voice. She wore black, she knew about art and spoke some te reo, before that was trendy. Her aesthetic inspiration was Nico from the Velvet Underground. She made me Mushrooms Romanov on a single gas element.

Her aesthetic inspiration was Nico (R) from the Velvet Underground. Photo / Supplied
Her aesthetic inspiration was Nico (R) from the Velvet Underground. Photo / Supplied

We became friends. We did silly things. We ran down to Queen St at midnight in our silk, paisley, men's dressing gowns and took pictures of ourselves posing on the traffic island. On the way back we set off the alarm in the Canadian embassy (now a karaoke bar) and ran home, flush-faced and wicked. We drank Fairhall River Claret and gin mixed with Enos, in lieu of mixers. More than 30 years later she is still one of my dearest friends (although our drink choices are top shelf now).

I am writing about this because my old friend just sent me an article saying there was an accommodation crisis at Victoria University and there was outrage that some students were told they would have to share hostel rooms. "Everyone is so angry and everyone's parents are going mental. Some people's parents want to sue the hostel for doing it," Victoria University first-year student Izzy Louisson told a newspaper.

One parent said the university was abusing its power. "What about the safety and security of having a total stranger in their room?"

The Students Association president Linsey Higgins: "You can't just cram students into rooms like they are cattle." Actually, I think the students are wrong and, worse, so are their parents.

Admittedly, I didn't do very well at university that year. (Possibly the only thing I did achieve was to lose my virginity, to a stoner at the hostel. Yes, he had a single room). But I learned something far more important. I learned it was worth not being a dick and more fun to stop sucking your cheeks in, and be friendly.

Sharing a room was possibly the best thing that ever happened to me. So give your room-mate a chance. You never know. She might make a mean gin and quote Joan Didion. But if she has more than one soft toy, run a mile.

- NZ Herald

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