The transition from Secondary school to University can be atraumatic experience. Especially when all your applications have been rejectedand you are scouring the ‘Clearing’ pages of Ceefax daily, frantically tryingto find somewhere/anywhere desperate to make up their numbers.
I did have an unconditional acceptance letter from theUniversity of Exeter, but it turned out to be a meticulously concocted April Fool’sjoke by a group of close ‘friends’. I eventually worked out it was fraudulentafter noticing that I had to meet in the “Adam Chapman Memorial Building” namedsuccinctly after the school bully who tormented me on a frequent basis – butnot before I had done a celebratory jig around the living room.
I eventually found a further educational establishment thatwanted [needed] me [my money]. The success criteria for acceptance were thatyou needed to have a pulse and have intermittent access to an HB pencil. I wasoff to the hedonistic heights of Hull.
Due to the late nature of my application, findingaccommodation proved extremely difficult. A local letting agent finally foundme a place in a block of flats – a six bedroom apartment that was built tohouse seven students. I was aged 18, heading to a city where the entire malepopulous sported a wispy moustache and now I was going to have to share a roomwith a complete stranger. That stranger’s name was ‘Johnjo’.
Johnjo is the walking embodiment that intelligence andcommon sense are inversely proportionate. My first impression of him couldn’thave been further from the truth. Prior to leaving for University, this politeand extremely well-spoken Yorkshire man had rung me at home and pleasantlyintroduced himself as my new room-mate. He had the presence of mind to inquireas to what I was taking with me so that between us we could equip our livingquarters for the next year with everything we would need without duplication. Ilater found out that his Mum had been whispering instructions verbatim in tohis ear throughout the entire duration of that call.
September arrived and the start of the academic year wasafoot. I arrived in Hull with all my worldly belongings dumped unceremoniouslyin to a large chequered laundry bag. Waiting eagerly for me at the top of thestairs at the entrance to the flat was Johnjo. Bounding on the spot like aspringer spaniel waiting for his master to throw a soggy tennis ball, heexcitedly thrust out his hand and uttered the immortal words “Hi, I’m John andI’m a little bit stupid.” Good God. That phoney offer from the University OfExeter suddenly seemed very appealing.
Now, I have to be extremely careful how far I tap in to theinfinite seam of Johnjo stories that ensued over the subsequent three years ofacademia for fear of starting an avalanche of idiocy.
Johnjo was an enigma. Due to his apparent detachment fromreality, his life skills at aged 18 were non-existent. For tea every night hewould cook a jacket potato in the microwave and then place it centrally in a seaof baked beans on a plate. It was a dish of such culinary aesthetic that it wasaffectionately referred to as ‘Potato Island’. He once accidentally knocked apot plant in to his bed and then subsequently slept in soil laden bed linen fora number of weeks. He rejected the romantic advances of a fellow studentclaiming that he had no clean pants for the morning and needed to do somelate-night hand-washing in the sink. The picture builds.
But one thing Johnjo had going for him in abundance was his passionfor the arts. Grade nine violin player and a keen amateur dramatist, he joinedthe orchestra and drama club on his immediate arrival at university. Johnjo wasvery keen to segregate his artistic pursuits from the rest of his student lifeand kept details of all his performances clandestinely to himself. That wasuntil I found a flyer in our shared room detailing the time and place of hisnext dramatic project. As a collective group of flat-mates, we were all on verygood terms so I thought it’d be nice if we attended this particular showtogether, as a surprise for Johnjo – and it certainly proved to be exactlythat.
The play was about a doomed warplane shot down during theWorld War Two and focused on the emotive dialogue between the pilot and thecontrol tower, both of whom knew that there was only going to one fatally sadending. I collected a programme from the foyer and flicked through briskly tosee which role Johnjo was playing. He was to play a General in the Air Forcepresent in the control tower. Strong, authoritative with a diligent sense ofprotocol and procedure, his character was written in to the play to convey asense of reason to balance the emotion unfolding over the airwaves. I usheredmy flat-mates eagerly in to the auditorium and we took our seats in the frontrow.
There before us were the entire cast, stood in theirunderwear and each with a potato sack over their heads. Neatly placed in frontof them were their costumes. All of the actors in turn removed the sack fromtheir heads, eyes firmly staring at the back of the room and thensystematically got dressed for the performance with military precision. All apartfrom one.
Johnjo took off his potato sack and instead of adhering tothe instruction to keep his eyes away from the audience he immediately caught aglimpse of a row of now familiar faces staring directly at him. The sense ofpanic was palpable. He picked up the pair of black, sharply pressed trousers infront of him and immediately put his left leg in to the hole for the right leg.After almost taking an immediate tumble, he steadied himself and managed tonavigate each leg in to the appropriate hole. It only got worse from there.
The army shirt laden with stripes and medals denoting rankwas buttoned up incorrectly where it was totally askew at the bottom and therewas a large hole exposing his belly button. A stage-hand had to be beckoned into the unfolding drama so that the cuff links could be administered after fourfailed attempts. From recollection, I believe Johnjo performed the entire playbarefoot as putting on the standard issue air force footwear would have broughtthe whole performance to its knees. The rest of the show passed mainly withoutfurther incident and we all gave him a celebratory [empathetic] slap on theback at the end.
From this point, Johnjo was a lot more careful aboutreleasing details of his extra-curricular activities. We found out a day toolate that he had played a gay Widow Twanky with Tourette’s in the drama clubChristmas pantomime. Despite this, Johnjo continued to provide a wealth ofcomic relief throughout our academic tenure in Hull, almost exclusively withouttrying – more than enough to keep this blog going for a little longer…