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In Defence of St Andrews' Halls

Is the grass greener on the other side? It’s a question large in the minds of most students in St Andrews’ collection of halls of residence. But what, or where, is this other side and in this case, shouldn’t the other side be white, cream or in fact, any colour apart from green? After all, green is the colour of most moulds and I’ll take the liberty of imagining that most people would rather avoid mould. Not that I’m suggesting St Andrews’ halls are universally mouldy, or even mould-coloured. No, I’m only wondering if anyone else has looked at Agnes Blackadder’s rather questionable colour scheme of decomposing porridge-yellow and aged bloodstain-burgundy and thought: “wow, now that is beautiful”.

The other side could be home of course. Home, where mummy and daddy have caressed Dulux’s finest emulsion paint onto perfect plasterboard? Home, where the plumbing is impeccable and everything works wonderfully? For some of you, perhaps. But for me at least, fashionable, functioning or any synonyms thereof are not words that immediately spring to mind when I think of home. Nonetheless, home is still much nicer than halls. Yet home versus halls is not a fair comparison, not for the vast majority of St Andrews students, who live outside of a viable commuting range into St Andrews. Furthermore, it is not sensible for every student to have a family home in St Andrews (just think of the property prices then).

So what are the other alternatives to the current collection of halls of residence? What can they be compared to? Rental flats are the most obvious. But again, is that a fair comparison? After all, most people in halls are first years and I’m not sure that the system practiced in many parts of Germany is really advisable; who wants to leap into flats with people they’ve only met on Facebook in a town they’ve only visited on an open day?

What then is a fair comparison? In the vast majority of cases, the only fair comparison for St Andrews’ halls of residence is other halls of residence. So how does St Andrews fare in comparison with other universities’ halls? Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, though I am somewhat educated on other halls within St Andrews, Britain, and wider Western Europe, I have only lived in two sets of halls, St Andrews’ Agnes Blackadder and one in Toulouse, France. Secondly, I’ve a word-count. There is a chance stronger than a hungry anaconda that I have missed something(s). I apologise in advance.

The most attractive aspect of entering a hall of residence is the opportunities it provides for socializing. The most fundamental aspect of ABH and the other St Andrewsian halls is that, give or take a few students, the entire first year student population enters them, though some less fortunate souls enter the residence in Dundee. Thus, including Dundee, there is carnage as the unwashed hordes of nervous freshers all experience the same process of fresher’s week, and the subsequent St Andrews lifestyle, in step together. In my personal experience, and in the personal experiences of many, many people around me, this mass immigration produces a very strong sense of community that is only bolstered by communal activities like halls events and by cooking, eating or uniting together against that shared specimen at the end of the corridor who is growing something particularly virulent from a take-away pot noodle in their bedroom. Moreover, as you are placed in rooms in a near random fashion – the algorithm accounts for little more than roommates and bed size, you meet people you would never normally meet. Then begins the process of meeting their friends, their friends’ friends and so on. Is it tiring? Yes. But is it also not incredibly rewarding?

Sadly, living with so many people comes at a cost. Continuing with Jeff (not their real name), the individual indulging in amateur fungus cultivation, other people are halls’ largest drawback. Admittedly difficult to keep clean by design (there are just so many gaps for food to fall into), the kitchens would be considerably less stressful if Jeff and his/her/their incurably untidy mates learnt to wash up, or indeed to use the bin. Normally I’m not a fan of fast food, but if it means there’s less burnt pesto pasta lining the sink from Jeff’s latest attempt at cooking for one, then I’m willing to put my morals aside. A second point is: whoever that is who’s so successful on the pull, would you mind keeping the noise down? I appreciate you are proud to be getting some action, but I — and the rest of the hall — would far rather hear the story after the event’s taken place, or indeed not at all. Just so long as it’s not during. On a side note, maybe your friend should think about joining the choir — that was some high note.

Illustration: Lauren McAndrew

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