As my time at university has progressed, I have become increasingly disillusioned. With the prospect of graduation looming ever-closer, it has become progressively more difficult to continue to avoid the question of what exactly one does with a history degree. Despair — over essays, internship applications, and rejections from The Crown’s casting team — has defined much of my recent university experience.
Fortunately, I’ve found an excellent mode of escape.
My official job title at the Cosmos Community Centre’s afterschool club is ‘Play Worker’. This makes me feel fairly justified in saying I essentially get paid to play Lego and make arts and crafts twice a week. Perhaps it’s a cliché, but it is genuinely impossible to feel hopeless when you’re surrounded by children who believe that your rings are magic and are mind-blowingly excited about the prospect of being able to play football for the fourteenth time that day.
I have endless wonderful conversations with these kids. We cover everything from what it means to be an adult (“You need three things: a pocket watch, a calculator, and a really good hat”) to what the future might be like (“Teleportation. But it will come at a cost.”) I come home cheered by jokes they’ve told, performances they’ve staged, and pranks they’ve pulled (they aren’t always well-behaved … but tying a volunteer to a chair by his shoelaces is objectively great craic).
As such, I was fortunate enough last week to sit down with some of St Andrews’ greatest minds in order to garner some gems of wisdom to share with the masses.
We started simple, discussing the merits of getting to call this lovely seaside town home. Assuming they all lived in St Andrews, I began by asking what their favourite thing about living here is. Child A (aged 9) immediately corrected my idiocy.
“I do not live in St Andrews! I live just outside”.
A complete fool, I apologise. What’s their favourite thing about living on the outskirts of St Andrews?
“My favourite thing is that there’s loads of tractors there, and you get to wave at the drivers who sometimes actually manage to wave back”.
That’s lovely! Do they know the farmers?
“I do but I don’t talk to them. My dad does the talking and he takes forever because that’s what adults do”.
Child B (aged 10) does not wait for everyone to reflect on the profundity of this statement, immediately balancing it with their reflections on living in St Andrews proper.
“First of all, don’t ask me where I live specifically because I don’t want any stalkers. Second of all, I think my favourite thing is being able to visit my granny and grandad because they give me good biscuits. I go shopping in St Andrews, the best shop is Bonkers. It used to be Paperchase but then it closed down”.
B’s ability to reflect on stranger danger, familial love, great snacks, and the local economy so powerfully and succinctly leaves me slightly lost for words. Luckily, I don’t have to respond because Child C (also 10) chimes in.
“Jannettas. I could never ever give up Jannettas. You could give me 10 million pounds and I would never ever give up Jannettas”.
Child D (aged 9 “but I’ll be 10 in two months so can you just say I’m 10”) questions this, pointing out that with 10 million pounds you could buy a house. In this economy, the value of real estate over ice cream is certainly something to consider. C counters this assertion, arguing that with 10 million pounds “you could buy Jannettas instead and then be the ruler of Jannettas”.
A great point made by a true entrepreneur. What’s the best Jannettas flavour?
C makes a case for oreo cookies; D advocates for bubblegum. A provides the novel answer of
‘Hokey Pokey’, which is “like vanilla but with lemon in it and also sprinkles”.
Child E (aged 5 “which I think is good but 9 and 10 are also good ages”) refocuses us all from our dairy-based daydreaming with some solidly relatable content.
“My best thing to do is go to the shops and get things and just hang out. I mostly just hang out at Morrisons”.
I tell them that I only live here because I go to university and ask them what they think that might be like. A’s guess is shockingly accurate.
“I think that it is big, with a big blue carpet on the floor, lots of desks and lots of people sitting at computers. They spend all day reading books and looking at computers and writing essays and stuff. That is not very interesting”.
C’s reflections are drawn from personal experience with the university’s accommodation.
“I’ve seen the dorms. Is it David Russell dorms? I feel like it could be way more colourful, like blue or something. They could have inspirational quotes on the walls to keep you all going”.
I tell them that in the depths of lockdown, some inspirational quotes could really have brightened up the walls of Fife Park’s Balfour building. I continue by asking them what they might study if they went to university.
“I love drama”, D answers confidently, “but I don’t need to study it because I have perfected it”.
A is similarly assertive: “Lunch”.
“It is yummy and also my favourite subject. I’d eat lots of lunch, see what was in lunch, ask what different people had for lunch, and rate people’s lunches. I would not study breakfast or dinner. Just lunch”.
This logic is very difficult to argue with.
Child F (aged 9) is inclined towards the study of “computers”. Sensing a coding genius in our midst, I ask them why.
“Because then I can laugh at my dad for not knowing how to fix a computer. I think you’d learn to take it apart, and then put it back together. Then for the tests you’d smash it and whoever rebuilds it the best gets a free computer”.
Not a woman in STEM myself, I cannot testify as to whether this is actually the case, but it sounds accurate enough to me.
Curious as to where these studies might lead them, I ask what they might want to be when they grow up. A wishes to be an inventor; B simply provides the warning “don’t be a politician, they are the worst!”; E wants to be “a cosmos lady”; and F wants to be “President of Scotland or a gamer”.
Tentatively, I turn the conversation towards politics. Did they know that Nicola Sturgeon has just resigned? Who do they think might make a good replacement?
Inevitably, we have two self-nominations. I ask the potential candidates for a brief outline of their manifestos.
F tells us of their commitment to appeasing “the kids” with their policy of “blocking the schools”. How will people learn, I ask? The answer is embarrassingly obvious: “on coolmathgames”.
B — despite their disdain for politicians — simply states that they’d like to be “the person of Scotland because I am amazing”.
“I would make every single shop sell free donuts. I would make up a recipe for… like … if you don’t like vegetables you would be able to eat it and it would taste like cake so it is still healthy but nice to eat”.
Both excellent candidates with a clear understanding of contemporary Scotland’s needs. Huzma Yousaf, Kate Forbes, and Ash Regan need to take notes.
Our conversation moves beyond Scotland’s borders and towards the supernatural. I question whether they believe in aliens; I am met with a resounding “DUH!”. Their proof?
“There are craters in the moon”, A and B tell me, “So it’s pretty obvious”.
F, our resident scientist, explains further.
“We are aliens, so yes. For example, to a dog, we are aliens that are taking over their planet and they just have to listen to us. We have the power to make stuff – like buildings and computers and ice packs – and that is why they listen”.
I decide to dig deeper: what of magic?
D immediately replies, “Yes, I believe in magic”. Why?
“Because I do … also my gran was a witch”.
They refuse to comment on this any further.
Upon this news, the gang has become introspective, and so I ask them for any final thoughts or pieces of advice that they might like to share with The Saint’s readers.
C provides a straight forwards “YOLO”. D expands further, telling me “Just do what you want to do and don’t let others tell you what they want you to do”. Everyone nods solemnly at this, except A — who rejects the entire premise of my final question.
“Why do interviews always end like that? They should end in au revoir because that is polite”.
Having been schooled on my lack of originality, I shake their hands and tell them, feebly “Thank you, au revoir”. Immediately, they scatter: to put on fancy dress; to make potions; and to initiate a jam sesh using DJ mode on the keyboard.
Whilst I might not have been wholly convinced by their extra-terrestrial reasoning, I have learned a lot from this brief chat. The conversation focused on finding joy in the mundane, prioritising one’s own happiness, not crumbling to self-doubt, and the absolute importance of being open-minded. These are genuinely wise tenets that are too easily forgotten in our bizarre university existences that revolve almost-exclusively around academic work and social politics.
I hasten to add that I am not advocating that you head down to your nearest playground and have a prolonged chat with the first child you come across. That teeters dangerously close to illegality. Instead, remind yourself to be childlike every once in a while. Whether it's waving at a tractor, reminding yourself of your own endless talents, or indulging in a Jannettas: if kids know anything, it’s how to forget your inhibitions and have a good time, all of the time.
The Cosmos Community Centre is a voluntary organisation established to support community education and provide facilities for recreation in St Andrews. The afterschool and holiday club works to provide entertaining and enriching childcare for local primary school children for 50 weeks of the year. The centre depends upon the valuable contributions of the community in order to run. If you are interested in donating your money or time to the centre, please email email@example.com. Alternatively, downloading the ‘easyfundraising’ app and choosing the ‘Cosmos Community Centre’ as your cause is a completely free and easy way to raise vital funds for the centre every time you shop online.
Illustration: Isabelle Holloway