Students descend on Surbiton

If you’re wondering why there’s been a sudden increase in confused-looking young people in and around Surbiton in the last couple of weeks, or why there are people sitting in the Victoria drinking lager in their pyjamas, or why there isn’t a single Sainsbury’s Basics product left on the shelves, it’s because, dear Surbitonians, the Students Are Back.

I love students. I loved being a student (which wasn’t that long ago). Under what other circumstances in your life, apart from manic depression, can you get away with going for a pint of milk in your pyjamas? It’s a time when it is socially acceptable, expected, even, to drink alcohol until your leg falls off, to appear unashamedly hungover in public, and to wear strange combinations of clothing at which your mother would probably faint, or shout.

Since Kingston University’s Freshers’ Week last week, the freshers have been everywhere. It’s easy to spot first-year students: they are the large groups of diners huddled round cheap Sunday roasts in the Coronation Hall, counting out their change on the tables with the meticulous care of forensic pathologists; they are the shoppers staring in abject horror at the cleaning products in Sainsbury’s, mobiles pressed against ears, hissing ‘But Mum, which one do I get??’; and they are the drinkers in pub gardens chanting loud and enthusiastic encouragement as someone else in their group downs a pitcher of Stella or squirts vodka out their eyeballs.

Last Tuesday I went into the 1st Stop on the corner of Maple and Brighton Road, and was startled to find the usually peaceful shop brimming with activity. A quick glance at the customers and I realised: students. I could tell by the way each so lovingly cradled their own favoured bottle of cheap, hard liquor, by the way they all paid separately, and ordered packets of only ten Marlborough Lights.

So I patiently queued for ten minutes for my Cadbury’s Freddo Frog whilst the young men in front of me purchased their goods. One apparently fastidious drinker yelled to the shell-shocked assistant, ‘Mate, can you see if you’ve got any Bacardi Gold out the back? And while you’re there, have a look for some Morgan Spiced, as well.’

Another young man, sporting an oversized jumper that looked like it may have belonged to his morbidly overweight grandma in the 1970s, complained to the assistant that ‘You really don’t have any small bottles of vodka? The 35cl ones? F**k’s sake. Okay, I’ll have two one-litre bottles then.’ Why go for just one litre, the surely natural progression in the absence of 35cl, when you can go for two? He clearly didn’t want to contemplate the horrifying prospect—every student’s worst nightmare—of Running Out Of Booze.

There was a slight dispute between two students who discovered they were faced with the fiddly concept of Drinking the Same Drink—do they stick to themselves and risk appearing antisocial, or do they share and risk losing out on precious sips of alcohol if the other is a quicker drinker?—but the matter was quickly and maturely resolved with the mutual decision to stick to themselves, and to hell with the consequences.

Eventually, the thirsty students trundled out of the shop and disappeared into the night, all set for an evening of prolific inebriation, and I was able to acquire my Freddo Frog from the dazed assistant in peace.

Whilst we are only in the second week of these freshers’ university lives, it is already ample time for interpersonal shifts to have occurred. Watching relationships bloom and confidence blossom amongst these nervous individuals has been a beautiful thing: at the beginning of Freshers’ Week there were huge groups of freshers wandering the high street, sticking together like shoals of frightened fish, hanging around outside shops to wait for members to undertake errands, never parting, never splitting. These groups would have been comprised of students living in the same halls; the ‘You are sleeping in the room next to me, therefore you are my friend’ groups. There is safety in numbers.

In a short time, more discriminating choices are made, and important decisions reached, such as ‘I’m not sure I really like Rachel, she sings too much,’ and ‘I definitely like Steve, he does a passable impression of Will from The Inbetweeners.’ Thus, the groups become smaller. These are the groups that, by the middle of the week, were sitting in the Black Lion over pints of Strongbow, nonchalantly reflecting on the most fascinating way to ingest alcohol. ‘Seriously, mate, snort it, it ruins you,’ chirped one young man. ‘Nah: wine through a straw on an empty stomach,’ pondered a young lass. The foundations of lifelong friendships are thus laid over musings about which orifice is the quickest route to incapacitating drunkenness.
And then, in no time at all, students are confident enough to step out in twos and threes: the bleary-eyed couple trailing pints of milk from limp fingers and reviewing last night’s alcohol consumption as they strolled past the YMCA, and the three girls discussing preferred methods of cooking eggs by the pasta sauces in Marks & Spencers.

Surbitonians, we must embrace this influx of students, even if it brings about some behavioural changes about town. Yes, there may be the odd 18 year old girl buying a sandwich from Greggs in her dressing gown. Granted, there may be a few new teams in your weekly pub quiz with team names like ‘Quiz in my Pants’, and members that spend most of the evening tearing up beer mats and groaning at all the answers. And there might be the occasional panicked individual trawling through the bookshelves in the charity shops, gasping ‘I need to find a copy of A Semiotic Approach to an Introduction to Literary Criticism and Theory of Modernist and Post Modernist Feminist Narrative in a Post-Structuralist Context, Volume One by tomorrow!’, but at least it makes life more interesting.

They are also the future of our country. Don’t be fooled by the Primark pyjamas, the endless shots of Sambuca, or the vacant stares at bottles of fabric conditioner: therein lies our next Prime Minister.


I've got some living in the house next door. It's a bit like when I used to have hamsters as pets and they suddenly get a bit old and bit grumpy and all of a sudden you can't go near them anymore. I just have to observe their nocturnal stumbling onto my driveway/front garden/wheelie bin and keep quiet.

Excellent, another brilliant article!

I must say, I have not noticed the students as much this year. I used to live near one of the Halls of Residence sites and I dreaded the first few weeks of the university year, when all of the freshers were trying to be particularly loud and impressive.

It is quite funny that they think themselves so original and humourous, even though they are doing exactly the same as those the previous year and the one before that. Still, I am sure I remember doing similar when I was a student...

Love it! Vair, vair true. I remember being a clueless fresher in Liverpool. The first day we all piled on a bus outside halls I asked the driver: 'Does this bus go to the university?' To which he replied: 'No, Queen, it didn't get enough A levels.' I'd like to pretend I laughed, but I just blinked at him and ran to a seat.

SurbBird - keep it up, please. These articles are the best thing to happen to this site in years. Chapeau.

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