Aberystwyth: The weird and wonderful


UNIVERSITY, by its very nature, is a very hard place to get into; not just academically, but emotionally, mentally and sometimes physically. You are, for the most part, separated from your parents, with whom you’ve been living for the majority of your life, and from your friends whom you swore to never leave – I know I did – and live, in our case, in what seems like a Welsh backwater town by the sea with a mile-long torture device known as Penglais Hill.

At the same time, you leave behind your old self. That nickname you had in Year 10? Gone. That bitter rivalry with that guy from the pub you have? Forgotten. Your status within the political battleground of the school playground? Poof, gone.

For many of us, university is a chance to wipe the social slate clean and start afresh, with all the knowledge gained from years of formal school, and some of us from years in the workplace. Couple that with living in a faraway town, miles from the nearest city, and you have a perfect recipe for reinvention.

Or, as its student population has shown, a recipe for unleashing, well, yourself. There’s a reason Aberystwyth University was voted as having the “Best Student Experience” in April 2012, but I don’t think it’s because of the inordinate amount of pubs we have (seriously, I’ve taken to giving directions to freshers using the pubs as markers). Nor is it solely because of the academic facilities we have, although it does help.

 I think it’s because of the people and the geography. Every time I go back and meet with my friends in Cardiff, we have a tradition of sharing uni stories. Most of their stories involve drinking gambits, household pranks and the odd social faux pas. When it comes to me, I don’t actually know where to start. Do I open with the time I fended off twelve zombies by the Castle, or the time someone got duct-taped to their wall? Maybe the time someone climbed up the walls at Yoko’s. Or that one night where the whole High Street was littered with drunken, oversized smurfs. Or that time that every window and door of Alexandra Hall’s ground floor was covered in orange construction paper. Or should I start them off lightly with that one guy whom I saw naked, drinking the dirtiest of pints from an old boot? Yes, it all happened. Just ask around.

 And the fun part about this? Nobody bats an eyelid any more.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – since when is running around with kids’ toys in public at university age ‘normal’? Normality is relative, dear reader. And here’s the kicker – even in a town where stuff on this scale happens, it’s still not ‘normal’. It’s still considered downright bonkers. It’s still insane to be doing such things at our age, and whoever does so should be shamed, the act itself forgotten and dismissed as a moment of weakness when our otherwise academic minds are in an alcohol-induced haze. But personally, I think that’s pretentious. The mere fact that these people aren’t considered savages, and that the people with the lab coats and the staffs and the Stetsons are not ostracised for their choices, is a welcoming sign of the times, at least here in Aberystwyth.

I admit that the weirdness and the zombie-killing and the uphill unicycling isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and neither is drinking until Lost makes sense. Yet here in Aber, according to the students, it’s okay. In fact, it’s wonderful. It sounds cheesy when put into words, but because as a town we’re cut off from the big city, and therefore have our own little ecology of trends, we accept and even applaud the things that other people are proud to be doing.

Aberystwyth is filled with the weird and wonderful, because we let it be. As a population, we’re placed in this little pocket of Wales, and it’s a blank canvas. Whether you reinvent yourself, explore a new hobby or just drink yourself silly before an exam, you’re not judged by anyone because, let’s be honest: we’ve all been there.

We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad. You must be, or you wouldn’t have come here.