In 1975 I started a law degree at Bristol University . I was in Churchill Hall where I’d already made what turned out to be a lifelong friend but I realised I needed to widen my circle. Early attempts proved fraught…
Living in an all male hall was something of a challenge, mostly around the underlying competitive atmosphere that pervaded so much. Loud conversations in the canteen and bar, equally loud challenges in the junior common room and TV room. And you either joined in or faded into the background like so much human wallpaper.
Having made a solid friend, I had some protection. I could see others who floundered, unable to join in or liable to try and do so with people who’s whole rationale was to test your mettle through verbal dissections.
I knew I needed to attach myself to others, to make sure I didn’t overwhelm my new friend – who had spent seven years at an all male boarding school and was better prepared than most for this zoo.
I did the most rationale thing; I tried to get to know those whose rooms were closest to mine. It wasn’t entirely successful.
I occupied a room on the first floor, one of three next to the bathroom facilities for my half of the first floor – there was another at the far end. David occupied the room opposite which left the room next to me. And it appeared the occupant never left it. Occasionally David and I sat outside around meal time to see who came out but no one did.
After three weeks, we found out the name of the occupant: Trevor. A second year. Other than that he was a mystery. Then, one evening, about ten o’clock, I heard whispered conversations. I knew Dave was out; he was auditioning for some comic opera. And it didn’t sound like someone passing on the way to the loo; it would be a bit odd anyway for people to go together.
I peeked outside and was immediately intrigued to see light coming out of my reclusive neighbour’s door, though in truth that was the second thing that struck me.
The first was the smell. It was… appalling. Back in the 1970s there was a masculine deodorant called Brut. Does it survive? I hope not. It was quite successful through shrewd advertising using the recruiting powers of sports stars Kevin Keegan and ‘enry Cooper and its slogans ‘splash it on’ and ‘the great smell of Brut’ became pretty ubiquitous.
However if we’d thought about it the fact it smelt like a distilled version of August armpits might have overcome our enthusiasm for it. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to repel me like a negative ion in a room of pessimistic electrons. But as I later discovered Trevor had a strong antipathy to water and neither washed himself or any of his clothes which he bundled up and took home at the end of term.
This, remember was week four of ten. The tsunami of stench had yet to build to its full strength.
That night however I managed to overcome my desire to scour my nostrils with my toothbrush; I stepped outside to say hi.
The man who I faced was everything a human weasel would comprise if such existed. This included the panic and frantic head twists as he realised I was going to speak to him.
‘Hello. I’m Geoff.’
This relatively standard greeting seemed to cause him some form of internal conniptions. He gripped his hands in a parody of Uriah Heap’s most unctuous fawning, bobbed his head like he was auditioning for a roll as one of those dogs that, back then, you often saw in the rear window of cars and squeezed his knees together in a way that suggested his pelvic floor muscles had decided to give up the ghost. I had never terrified someone so patently with my name and I had no idea what to do.
Fortunately he had enough presence of mind to hammer on the door to what I had assumed was his room. It creaked open and from the enlarged gap a short plump face appeared, one hand pushing at a mass of blond curls. The expression was indicative of anger but then this man saw me. His eyes stretched unfeasibly wide and then he smiled. ‘Ello? Can I ‘elp?’
Mr Weasel turned and ran – well, scuttled – leaving me with this chap.
‘Are you Trevor? I’m your neighbour.’
‘I am.’ He hesitated, glanced back into his room and quickly joined me in the corridor, shutting the door behind him. In that moment I was struck by the fact I couldn’t see his bed, or his desk for a sea of cardboard boxes. Trevor offered me his hand. ‘Hi.’
He kept smiling but said no more. I was a bit stumped. I essayed an ‘I’m doing law.’
He nodded. Nothing.
‘First year,’ I added.
‘Dave – he’s in that room,’ I pointed at the other door. ‘He’d doing law.’
That got me a short nod.
I was about to ask what he did when Mr Weasel reappeared hefting another cardboard box up the stairs. Trevor saw him as I did and his expression changed from the benignly gormless to the viscerally annoyed.
‘You Pillock. Can’t you wait while I finish with this gentleman?’
From somewhere behind the box, an oddly deep voice said, ‘the boss said drop these off and get back pronto.’
Trevor looked torn. He managed a smile at me, looked like he was going to say something, decided better of it and yanked his door open, pushed man and box inside and slammed it shut after him. Seconds later the lock was engaged.
It took a while and some detective work by Dave but it turned out the boxes comprised TVs. Trevor offered Dave one just before Christmas. Someone said they were his father’s who was in wholesaling electrical goods and he sometimes had to clear out his warehouse urgently, using Trevor as a repository. Were they stolen? No idea. Trevor didn’t appear until halfway through the second term and the fact the smell stayed away was, for us a bonus.
It didn’t take me long to conclude that, if I was going to make more friends it wasn’t going to be Trevor.