Recently, I was asked to list all my addresses from when I was 18. I wrote back with:
‘There’s only space for three. I have nine. Is that ok?’
I’m 27 years old.
University accommodation in the UK is more like a very large apartment share. An enclosed area contains six buildings, all lettered. Each building contains five floors. Each floor contains three apartments. Each apartment contains 10 rooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen/tv area. Each room comes with a single bed, a closet, a sink, a desk, a chair and a small bookshelf.
Block E Floor 4 Room 1. My first home abroad and the first place I ever lived by myself. Just me, the only straight girl, living with seven guys and two other girls.
Oh, and I was the only foreigner too.
I’ve long suspected I only got into the university due to their need to fill a quota of overseas residents they must let in each year. I got the biggest room. I got accepted before ANY of my test scores came back….three months before I actually sat any of my final exams. Ok, I got done for plagiarism my first year and had to retake some of my first year course during my second year as a penalty by hey, I wasn’t kicked out.
‘You’re not even a writer yet and you’ve been done for plagiarism!’ – My flatmate
To get into my room you needed three keys. One for the main door, one for the apartment door and one for my room door. Everyone lost their keys at least once and everyone had their set of keys tossed out the window for the locked-out member of our tribe to
catch drop and let themselves in. We were four floors up with no elevator. We weren’t walking down to let someone in. Ever.
It was here during my first week, I suffered from food poisoning and became a vegetarian for the year.
It was here on my first night, we had an earthquake. Something I didn’t realise until the next day.
It was here that we had random fire alarm emergencies at incredibly early times of day. Forced to stand outside in the cold because one of the other 18 year olds didn’t know how to use a toaster or because someone put bread in the microwave to make toast. (I kid you not)
It was here that the fire alarm system malfunctioned due to someone pouring alcohol on a sprinkler during a fire department strike and we were forced to sit outside in the car park until every part of the building was checking. This was after waiting for the reserves to get their asses into gear and find their way out to us in the first place.
It was here that we had a drug talk due to a raid during our first week which lead to a ‘drug finding frenzy’…Police words from the memo, not mine.
It was here that I met The Scottish Writer, who nine years later I would talk into moving to Korea.
It was here that one night, upon returning from work, I found one of my flatmates outside smoking and looking panicked. Turned out while I was at work (from 4:30m-9:30pm), one of our other flatmates, let’s call him Fred, had been arrested. Not only ‘just arrested’, his room was searched, his laptop and other ‘belongings’ taken and he was handcuffed and frogmarched across the courtyard and into a squad car.
Given my love of crime dramas, I, still to this day, am really sorry I wasn’t there to witness it.
As it transpired, Fred had been arrested for suspected rape.
Now, Fred was a little weird. He had six toes on one foot, claimed to be rich but worked at the grocery store, was overweight and could, in the right light, be a little creepy, but ‘rapist’ just didn’t sit right on him.
The nine of us got called in for an apartment meeting by the accommodation director and they explained Fred had been arrested for suspected rape. Apparently he’d walked a girl home, dropped her off and went home. The girl had woken up, on her floor, naked and unable to remember what had happened. Her tampon was missing, she panicked and called her friend. They both then called the police, which is the correct thing to do under the circumstances.
The incorrect thing to do under the circumstances would be to immediately run out and arrest the guy who’s dropped her off at her apartment.
We were told the girl was refusing to believe Fred had done anything wrong. She was insisted no charges were brought against him. Police were apparently ignoring her.
This was all the information the university gave us. Followed by ‘We advise you not to call your parents…or tell anyone about any of this….at all…’. Image first, safety next. Let’s not panic the parents, ey?
It fell to me to say whether, during the period of time they were trying to sort this out and while he was out on bail, if I felt comfortable with him living in the apartment with us. The boys started up about the safety of the girls while I remained quiet. During the first few weeks of university, Fred had taken to leaving me gifts and cards outside my door. I felt uneasy about it and quietly approached my RA. I asked him to discreetly give the gifts back to Fred and have a word with him about it. I asked him to tell him it was inappropriate and he should stop. The RA did as directed and I considered the matter settled. No animosity, no drama, solved quickly and quietly before it escalated. Done.
During the meeting, I maintained my composure. Fred wasn’t proven guilty and for all we knew it was a misunderstanding. I didn’t want him arrested, embarrassed AND kicked out of the apartment over nothing. I stayed out of the ‘vote’ and Fred got to stay in the apartment.
The following day, while hungover (cos when your flatmate is arrested for suspected rape the natural thing to do is get drunk), I got a call. I was in the middle of a production meeting / having my senior tutor give me a warning about conduct on set as the previous weekend I’d shot our lighting director with a BB gun in the leg. I was called back to the accommodation office and told our merry band of nine (sans Fred) would be having another meeting.
We climbed up the stairs to the office and sat, once again, around the board room table.
We were told the charges were being dropped.
We were told CCTV had Fred dropping the girl off and moments later leaving the building.
We were told the girl was brought to the hospital and diagnosed with epilepsy.
We were told as it was Friday, Fred would not be notified that the charges were being dropped until he appeared at the police station on Monday.
We were asked politely to please refrain from telling him.
When I returned from work on Monday evening, we opened all the windows and watched as Fred set fire to the form the police had given him pertaining to his innocence.
It burned quickly on the kitchen table and soon it was like it had never existed.
We never spoke of it again.