Lectures, Laws and Rhubarb Crumble
30 October 2008
Andrew Bonsall, president, University of Leeds Law Society
We live in the rhubarb crumble! my friend proclaimed with such confidence I was hard pressed to doubt her, until she turned a shade of red reserved for Ferraris and buried her face in her hands, at which point I realised the wine was taking its toll, and I was well within my rights to laugh at her.
(She meant to say we live in the rhubarb triangle; if youd like to know what that means please send a stamped addressed envelope to somebody with that information).
Anyway, in the grand journalistic tradition of making metaphors out of mole-hills (and mixing them too) I will now use this Rhubarb Crumble Theory to describe the transition from schoolboy to law school.
Please bear with me I promise you your just desserts.
I begin with smell. The first smell of university is the prospectus, which smells new, bookish and somehow complex; it makes university seem strangely prosperous; all the people smile in a way best described as lunatic. I must admit, I was sceptical of these sunny, happy, glossy photographs, and so decided to read the prospectus as well as look at the pictures.
Eventually, through a combination of intense research and geographical triangulation I decided on the universities to apply to, and thankfully very few of them offered me a place, so my choice was made much easier: I picked the first one that accepted me. You may have played hard-to-get, I just played get-me-there.
So, the smell of the crumble enticed me in. Next, the crumbly top was revealed, as were the crumbly buildings, the crumbling lecturers, and the crummy lecture theatres. I soon found that one problem crumbles and universities share is that of over-baking; you can practically cremate a university with over-expectation.
Im not saying that one should pretend ones not going to university, nor that one should lose all standards and arrive with a completely open mind. In my opinion, approaching everything with a completely open mind is just asking for somebody to pick your brain, or worse, steal it.
My advice would be to develop a vague idea of things youd like to do whilst at university (make friends, edit a student magazine, get a degree, etc.) so that youre not bamboozled by the sheer volume of activities you’re inevitably invited to partake in.
Without a vague idea, you go astray: I joined the Stage Musical Society (SMS) in my first week at university, and I hate musicals. Theyre like golf if youre not participating theyre no fun, but you feel obliged to watch the whole thing. Perhaps thats why they share their acronym with the Sado-Masochistic Society.
Expectation can, in fact, inhibit learning. I expected epiphanies that revealed secrets of true knowledge and to be born again through learning (incidentally, I am not of the opinion that nobody is born again, and if they were they wouldnt brag about it). As a result I ended up constantly look over my shoulder for something more exciting to happen and risked dribbling rhubarb crumble down my back, which I imagine is difficult to explain if anybody asks (just tell them you were trapped in a bad metaphor). Eventually, I learnt to just concentrate on reality as it was, not as I thought it should be.
Its about balancing expectation with receptiveness; Im sure youll pick it up.
Now, the Readers Digest Dictionary defines tome as a particularly weighty or scholarly book; often used humorously. Back in September I would’ve agreed with the first part of that definition. The second, however, stuck in the throat somewhat, as indeed would a law text if you tried to eat it as a crumble, which is, in fact, the only way that I could have imagined deriving humour from the books Id bought. Carrying them made my arms ache, looking at them made my eyes ache, and they made my bank account empty.
They smelled remarkably as the prospectuses had, yet now the odour evoked panic, nausea and despair; it was as though Id been brought my hundredth bowl of compulsory crumble (for those that are wondering, compulsory crumble is very much like rhubarb crumble, except it doesnt taste as nice and its normally served by your grandmother). Theres only one way to survive: little and often.
Dont dip your spoon to the bottom of the text and try to swallow a whole chapter at once, youll choke and end up spitting it all out again (i.e. youll develop a headache and you wont learn a thing).
If you nibble a paragraph at a time, pause to wipe your notes on your napkin, and then return again, youll soon find that a whole book will sink in like the crowd at Glastonbury.
Quote for the day: Ye can lade a man up to thuniversity, but ye cant make him think. Finley Peter Dunne