Column 19: Exams, 14th March 2003
I wrote about revision last week, so the obvious follow-up is the exams themselves. I’m not a betting man, but I bet you’ve done a fair few exams before, and you should be used to them now. But they’re still a pain, both mentally and physically, due to the wonderfully unergonomic design of exam hall furniture – sitting on a chair which was obviously designed by somebody with a penchant for sadism, and a desk that has its legs placed precisely where you’d like your legs to be, thereby ensuring there is absolutely no physically comfortable position possible. It is also inevitable that you will choose a table that wobbles with every slight movement of your pen.
So, everything is perfectly arranged for the whole exam experience to be as stressful as possible. You should try to relax. However, your options for doing this in the exam hall are somewhat limited – you can’t run a hot bubble bath or light scented candles, the invigilators would probably want a word with you if you lit a joint, and presumably masturbation is well off-limits.
You don’t want to be tired in an exam, so make sure you get a good night’s rest. If you have trouble sleeping, you could try knocking yourself out with either a bottle of vodka or a large mallet, but why not try self-hypnosis? All you need is a pocket watch, or failing that a £2 coin on a piece of string, and there are guides on the internet telling you exactly what to do – though be careful which one you pick. I tried one a few years ago, which seemed to work quite well, but every time somebody coughed I would get up onto the desk and sing “If You’re Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands”. Several others had obviously read similarly poor hypnosis guides, because every time I clapped my hands while singing, they got up and danced around their desks and pretended to be cream cakes. It all got rather chaotic and messy, particularly when they started eating themselves, and it was shortly after this event that they abolished the 11-plus – I always said it was wrong for kids to sit exams at such a young age.
Not only do exams drive children insane, but constant exams means you hear the same advice over and over again, such as making sure you read the question properly before answering – I once spent ages writing out a detailed derivation of the fundamental equations of Quantum Mechanics, only to realise that what I’d actually been asked was only to sign a credit card slip in the supermarket. I’d like to think that the 16 year-old cashier learned something from it, but she just put it straight in the till. I don’t think she even compared it with the signature on my card – which is a detailed derivation of the main equations of General Relativity. Maybe my writing is just too small.
Time has a habit of running out all too quickly in some exams. The same is true of this column’s word count – my word limit approaches rapidly, so that’s it from me this year I think. This is the last Felix of this term, and my final column, for a while at least. You can find all nineteen of them which I’ve written this year on my website – plus a whole plethora of other things. Kinky Mark, Channel 23 and The Fish of Knowledge are eagerly awaiting your visit. Thanks for reading and goodbye – my time is up, so I shall now stop writing.
Column 18: Revise, 7th March 2003
There are only two weeks of this term left now, which means it’s probably time to start thinking about revising for your exams. I say revising, but if you’re anything like me, that means reading your lecture notes for the first time and trying to understand what the hell it all means. You sit there thinking – next year you will work harder, steadily, throughout the year, so you don’t end up learning it all from scratch next Easter, and you won’t do so dismally, but really you know you’ll end up making all the same promises this time next year. Except if you’re going to graduate this year of course. But then, that could be a very big “if” indeed. The shit has hit the fan. It’s time to get down to work. But can you really be bothered? Right now?
The first thing to do, obviously, is to construct your revision timetable. Try not to waste time by making it too elaborate – if yours is carved out of mahogany, exquisitely decorated with paintings of Biblical figures and encrusted with jewels, and illuminates in a range of hues when voice-activated, you might want to consider brushing up on your time management skills. Of course, the trap here is that you then end up spending hours and hours searching Google, looking up ways to use your time more effectively. Then you sit there, pondering for a while about the irony of it all. Then you realise pondering the irony for so long was itself ironic, as now you’ve wasted even more time, and then you’ve only got a week to go until your exams begin.
It can all get very stressful when you realise how little time you have left. The best way to relieve stress, of course, is to take a holiday – so why not book a last-minute flight and get away from it all for a few weeks?
If you do stay at home though, you’ve still got ways to waste time. For example, when revising, make sure you take regular breaks. There’s no point in revising unless you’re concentrating fully, so make sure you’re fully rested and recovered before you go back to your desk. Go and get yourself something to eat – roast a chicken, bake a loaf of bread, marinade a steak for twelve hours, have a five course meal, and then go to bed to make sure you’re in tip-top condition for when you go back to that nasty textbook.
You can probably kill quite a few days with nice long breaks alone. But then you’ll find you’ve only got two days left and you still don’t understand a thing. The shit has well and truly hit the fan now – in fact, a whole dungheap has been fired at a ship’s propellers – and it’s time to cram. No time for sleep now – staple your eyes open, and connect yourself to a drip wired straight up to a Starbucks espresso machine, pumping boiling hot coffee through your veins.
Next, eliminate all possible distractions from your study area. Put your telly in the attic, post your computer to an oil rig in the North Sea and bury all non-relevant books at the bottom of the garden. Then take a deep breath, and revise.
Condense your notes – take your original lecture notes, abbreviate them, and get them down to a few sheets of A4. Then do it again. And then do it again, until you can write a whole lecture course onto a contact lens. Then you’re all set – it’s so quick and simple really. Why does it take so long?
Column 17: Web, 28th February 2003
Imagine a world where people are trapped in a kind of artificial reality. Everybody is plugged into a giant network, and their pale bodies are wasting away. Is this The Matrix – or just regular multi-player Quake gamers?
Who needs friends, or to go outside, when you can stay in your room playing computer games and eating takeaways until your heart stops? More to the point, who needs enemies, when you can butcher friends and strangers alike with an assortment of heavy weaponry?
It’s good to give the youth of today the chance to practise their skills with blades and handguns before they go out into the real world. It’s nice that they can practise bludgeoning people they don’t know before they go out and do the real thing in the High Street. How lovely that they have the opportunity to try shooting at people before they’ve bought their first real gun!
So the logic goes – but do games really encourage violence? Or is it just the parents who get violent, when their small child cons another forty quid out of them for a game they’ll play for ten minutes? My computer frequently brings me near to violence. Give me a large sledgehammer and yet another pop-up advert for some crappy webcam, and I’ll be buying another monitor shortly afterwards. I’d love to throw the bloody thing out of the window sometimes, but it wouldn’t be too impressive as I live in a basement.
Computers can be dangerous machines. You could get Repetitive Strain Injury. How painful – a slight ache because you’ve used your computer for too long! You can also do yourself severe mental damage, and there’s plenty of people out there who are aiming to make you as annoyed as possible from their distant bedrooms. Some people write viruses, some send spam, and still others sit there writing columns for Felix – all to ensure your irritation level is at a comfortable maximum.
Arguing with people on the internet is great fun. On the web, you can call anybody you like a pathetic dribble of donkey semen, and you’re completely safe. Say that to a bouncer though and you probably won’t be spending the night partying away in a club – not least because they don’t tend to keep artificial respirators in clubs, and also because dancing with a broken neck can be risky.
People on the internet aren’t always who they say they are. That 58 year-old man who says he likes playing Twister in the nude could really be a gorgeous 20-something blonde. Even if they send you a picture clearly showing themselves to be a wrinkly, bearded old codger, that doesn’t mean they are – they could be a beautiful member of the opposite sex, sickeningly trying to lure you into their bed. Remember, never give out any personal information on the internet – if you tell somebody your shoe size, you could be in serious trouble. If you give out your address, some bastard with a grudge will come round to your house in seconds (if you’re wondering, I’m at 17 Palace Lane, Baghdad).
Many bastards don’t seem to have too much trouble getting hold of me anyway. Why do I get so much junk email of no interest to me whatsoever? Spam offering me the opportunity to increase the size of my penis – I’d never be able to find underpants to fit then, would I! You’d have to unravel an entire sheep or something! What about a fantastic opportunity to get a degree by doing no work? Isn’t that what I’m trying to do anyway?
Column 16: House, 21st February 2003
We’re over half-way through the year now, and if you’re in halls it’s probably time to think about who you want to live with in a flat next year. Or, if you’re already in a flat, it’s time to think about whether you want to put up with your current flatmates for another bloody year. If they never do any cleaning so the house looks like a skip, if play their music so loudly that your eardrums sometimes burst the second you come in, and if they smell like pigs, how do you tell them that you’d rather live elsewhere without hurting their feelings? How do you tell them that you’d rather live in a shed in Peckham with a herd of wildebeest? How do you imply that you’d find it easier to sleep in a blazing fireworks factory? Within a few months, your diplomacy skills will have reached a new high.
Once you’ve found your flatmates, you’ve got to find your flat. I’m not sure it’s worth actually looking round anywhere – whichever flat you end up in, it will be dingy, slightly smelly and the shower will be rubbish. There will be two possible central heating settings – off, which will freeze the balls off an Eskimo, or on, which will melt rocks. And whatever problem you have, wherever your flat is, the landlord will be about as easy-going and approachable as Satan when he’s got a bit of a headache.
You could avoid this trouble by reapplying to halls. You get to stay in a carefree, childlike state for another year where your room gets hoovered for you while you lie in on a weekday morning. You get to meet a whole new batch of weirdos, and you have none of the hassles of dealing with BT or London Electricity. In a flat you have to take responsibility for everything – you can’t place the blame for any damage on anybody else. That means if you’re a little careless, for example you leave a candle unattended and don’t turn the gas hob off properly, you can’t say it was all that bloke-down-the-corridor’s fault – you’ll have to face the wrath of the landlord yourself.
You’ll be able to tell when he or she is coming – you’ll hear the music from The Omen, and a shiver will run down your spine as you hear the hellish wail coming closer. There will be three loud knocks at the door. You’ll open it, and it will make a horrible creaking noise. There will be a flash of lightning and the terrifying, deep voice of the underworld will demand to know why the lovely three-bedroomed flat they rented out to you now has only two bedrooms and an enormous hole in the ceiling. You’ll probably lose your deposit.
But at least in a flat you won’t get woken up at 4am by some drunken pillock who’s set the fire alarm off because they’re too stupid to operate a toaster. You may be visited by the Devil himself in a flat, but at least he’ll knock first. When you’re suddenly awoken from your slumber in halls by something that sounds like 50,000 babies with megaphones being poured into a car crusher, you may think Judgement Day itself has arrived without warning, and if you haven’t got a strong heart you may indeed be on your way to meet your maker. That might be preferable to standing outside freezing in your dressing gown at dawn, though, while the warden tries to remember the code to turn the alarm off. You may find yourself longing for the day you graduate.
Column 15: Sex, 14th February 2003
It’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air. Or has somebody just farted? Up and down the country, people are sending red roses, seductively munching expensive chocolates, listening to the wailings of Celine Dion and Ronan Keating, and their brains are clearly turning to mush – calling each other things like baby, sweet pea, pumpkin or sugar-poos.
Except at Imperial College of course, which is about as romantic a place as the room in a hospital for digestive disorders where they wash out the bedpans. As you’ve probably noticed, there seem to be rather too few ladies to go round – or perhaps we’re just too clever to want to call each other things like honeykins.
That doesn’t mean we don’t try, though. If you’re in a relationship, please spare a thought for those of us with body odour, funny teeth and faces like comedy vegetables. Last year I won a prize at a village fête for having a cauliflower amusingly shaped like a man’s head. This was particularly upsetting – I haven’t got a garden and I’m about as green-fingered as Edward Scissorhands. It was also rather painful having a rosette pinned to my face. It would have been less embarrassing if I’d won the contest for the largest marrow, I suppose, but I’d probably have to turn down the rosette for that.
Love is blind. As I’ve often said to the ladies, my face might look like a sackful of mouldy, sprouting potatoes, but my beauty is within – so just close your eyes. The nun wasn’t having any of it, however. She mumbled that she had taken a vow of celery, or something, which sounded quite kinky. I asked if I could watch, but the police escorted me from the women’s changing rooms before she could answer.
The combination of psychology and blindfolds wasn’t getting me very far, so when I received some junk email advertising pheromones, I got out my credit card – and I had a warm feeling that the money from selling my kidneys was being put to good use. You might argue that using pheromones is deceiving the opposite sex, but, as I said to the lady in the Post Office, surely it’s not much different to using deodorant or perfume – after all, behind that Hugo Boss fragrance you probably smell like something Vanessa Feltz would deposit about twelve hours after eating a chicken vindaloo. That chat-up line did not work as well as I expected, and the unfortunate coincidental muscle spasm that caused her shoe to hit my gonads left me in some considerable pain.
It seems the pheromones have been less than successful. These days I’m still not getting much luck with the ladies – most of them still push me away and say I smell like an old tramp – but I can drive a cocker spaniel wild from fifty paces.
Would a girlfriend even fit in with my student lifestyle anyway? Even if I looked like James Bond, what lady would want to come back to my shitty hovel of a flat? I’ve got a single bed, peeling wallpaper, crockery all over the floor and the place smells like the carcass of a hippo. Is this really the way to begin a beautiful relationship?
And who really needs sex? Why can’t we just learn to love each other, in the same entirely innocent way that Michael Jackson loves children? Come on girls, jump into my bed – I’m just being friendly. I promise I won’t get my “Thriller” out while you’re asleep, and I certainly won’t “Beat It”, at least, not while you’re in the room.