The transition from Secondary school to University can be a traumatic experience. Especially when all your applications have been rejected and you are scouring the ‘Clearing’ pages of Ceefax daily, frantically trying to find somewhere/anywhere desperate to make up their numbers.
I did have an unconditional acceptance letter from the University of Exeter, but it turned out to be a meticulously concocted April Fool’s joke by a group of close ‘friends’. I eventually worked out it was fraudulent after noticing that I had to meet in the “Adam Chapman Memorial Building” named succinctly after the school bully who tormented me on a frequent basis – but not before I had done a celebratory jig around the living room.
I eventually found a further educational establishment that wanted [needed] me [my money]. The success criteria for acceptance were that you needed to have a pulse and have intermittent access to an HB pencil. I was off to the hedonistic heights of Hull.
Due to the late nature of my application, finding accommodation proved extremely difficult. A local letting agent finally found me a place in a block of flats – a six bedroom apartment that was built to house seven students. I was aged 18, heading to a city where the entire male populous sported a wispy moustache and now I was going to have to share a room with a complete stranger. That stranger’s name was ‘Johnjo’.
Johnjo is the walking embodiment that intelligence and common sense are inversely proportionate. My first impression of him couldn’t have been further from the truth. Prior to leaving for University, this polite and extremely well-spoken Yorkshire man had rung me at home and pleasantly introduced himself as my new room-mate. He had the presence of mind to inquire as to what I was taking with me so that between us we could equip our living quarters for the next year with everything we would need without duplication. I later found out that his Mum had been whispering instructions verbatim in to his ear throughout the entire duration of that call.
September arrived and the start of the academic year was afoot. I arrived in Hull with all my worldly belongings dumped unceremoniously in to a large chequered laundry bag. Waiting eagerly for me at the top of the stairs at the entrance to the flat was Johnjo. Bounding on the spot like a springer spaniel waiting for his master to throw a soggy tennis ball, he excitedly thrust out his hand and uttered the immortal words “Hi, I’m John and I’m a little bit stupid.” Good God. That phoney offer from the University Of Exeter suddenly seemed very appealing.
Now, I have to be extremely careful how far I tap in to the infinite seam of Johnjo stories that ensued over the subsequent three years of academia for fear of starting an avalanche of idiocy.
Johnjo was an enigma. Due to his apparent detachment from reality, his life skills at aged 18 were non-existent. For tea every night he would cook a jacket potato in the microwave and then place it centrally in a sea of baked beans on a plate. It was a dish of such culinary aesthetic that it was affectionately referred to as ‘Potato Island’. He once accidentally knocked a pot plant in to his bed and then subsequently slept in soil laden bed linen for a number of weeks. He rejected the romantic advances of a fellow student claiming that he had no clean pants for the morning and needed to do some late-night hand-washing in the sink. The picture builds.
But one thing Johnjo had going for him in abundance was his passion for the arts. Grade nine violin player and a keen amateur dramatist, he joined the orchestra and drama club on his immediate arrival at university. Johnjo was very keen to segregate his artistic pursuits from the rest of his student life and kept details of all his performances clandestinely to himself. That was until I found a flyer in our shared room detailing the time and place of his next dramatic project. As a collective group of flat-mates, we were all on very good terms so I thought it’d be nice if we attended this particular show together, as a surprise for Johnjo – and it certainly proved to be exactly that.
The play was about a doomed warplane shot down during theWorld War Two and focused on the emotive dialogue between the pilot and the control tower, both of whom knew that there was only going to one fatally sad ending. I collected a programme from the foyer and flicked through briskly to see which role Johnjo was playing. He was to play a General in the Air Force present in the control tower. Strong, authoritative with a diligent sense of protocol and procedure, his character was written in to the play to convey a sense of reason to balance the emotion unfolding over the airwaves. I ushered my flat-mates eagerly in to the auditorium and we took our seats in the front row.
There before us were the entire cast, stood in their underwear and each with a potato sack over their heads. Neatly placed in front of them were their costumes. All of the actors in turn removed the sack from their heads, eyes firmly staring at the back of the room and then systematically got dressed for the performance with military precision. All apart from one.
Johnjo took off his potato sack and instead of adhering to the instruction to keep his eyes away from the audience he immediately caught a glimpse of a row of now familiar faces staring directly at him. The sense of panic was palpable. He picked up the pair of black, sharply pressed trousers in front 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 to navigate each leg in to the appropriate hole. It only got worse from there.
The army shirt laden with stripes and medals denoting rank was buttoned up incorrectly where it was totally askew at the bottom and there was 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 four failed attempts. From recollection, I believe Johnjo performed the entire play barefoot as putting on the standard issue air force footwear would have brought the whole performance to its knees. The rest of the show passed mainly without further incident and we all gave him a celebratory [empathetic] slap on the back at the end.
From this point, Johnjo was a lot more careful about releasing details of his extra-curricular activities. We found out a day too late that he had played a gay Widow Twanky with Tourette’s in the drama club Christmas pantomime. Despite this, Johnjo continued to provide a wealth of comic relief throughout our academic tenure in Hull, almost exclusively without trying – more than enough to keep this blog going for a little longer…