Living out of college accommodation is a daunting prospect for every university student, but in Oxford it’s an especially rude awakening. We’re coddled from the outset at this ‘public school finishing school’ as a safely-graduated friend recently termed it; scouts take our bins out and clean our bathrooms, porters are on hand from midday to midnight to help with an emergency leak or a dodgy alarm, and you can go so far as to demand a lightbulb delivered right to your room post haste – hell, even a new lamp. People will cook for you, and serve you the food, and then take your plate away, and no one’s forcing you to deal with anyone else’s piles of dirty colanders in the sink. You can lock your room and ignore all human interaction for days save awkwardly bumping into someone on the way to the loo (or the shower, if that’s a thing you choose to partake in), and the library is but a ten minute stroll away. Given this seemingly luxurious and extravagant existence, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would opt out of a system that might accommodate them for their full degree, instead choosing to pay extortionately for lodgings an Oxford marathon from the centre of town, with a boiler that breaks every fortnight and must be repaired by a man who has to turn sideways to fit through your front door.
True, there are the obvious pros: we can throw massive parties that drag on until 5am without suffering the judgement of the porters (just those two noise complaints from the council). We can smoke without schlepping all the way across three quads and out through the main gate, to huddle five-to-an umbrella whilst shivering forlornly and suffering the judgement of the porters. We can walk five minutes from bedrooms, in our pyjamas, to any number of delicious and multi-ethnic cuisines – or indeed order them right to our door, without suffering the judgement of the porters. So yes, the number 1 reason to suck it up and make a decision on the living-out dilemma may quite clearly be that we want to behave in embarrassing and borderline-irresponsible ways, and we don’t want to be judged for it – which from what I can tell seems to be the main incentive of becoming a self-sufficient grown up anyway. It’s pretty understandable why one would choose the liberation of living independently over continuing to eat/sleep/party within the walls of the institution that controls both our work and our future and everything in between. Slightly less clear is exactly why one would choose to do this with eleven other people.
When I tell people I live in a house of twelve I get a mixture of astonishment and intrigue. “Jesus, I didn’t even know there were houses that big here.” “Oh, it must be exactly like freshers halls all over again, right?” “I think I would go mad.” A universal question is that of how many bathrooms we have. (We have three. And a downstairs loo. But don’t go in there, the locks dodgy and the window is squeeze for anyone above a size 8.) But what always strikes me most is the knee-jerk horror that people seem to feel at the prospect of living with such a large group, as if if you stick more than seven people in a house together it’s only a matter of time before Lord of the Flies breaks loose. A few weeks ago our landlord showed around a disturbingly youthful group of prospective tenants, who asked us all in hushed tones if it wasn’t absolutely awful living with so many people, and whether we thought we’d survive the year. So, in an effort to convince the world at large that living in a house of twelve isn’t the absolute worst thing ever, here are five reasons why I think living in a giant mansion with loads of my friends is pretty sweet:
There’s always someone to talk to. As an only child I always thought I needed lot of independence and alone time. Turns out I don’t, and when you fancy a cup of tea or a whine or even just to procrastinate on your laptop with someone else doing the same thing within spitting distance, there’ll always be at least three choices of company.
It takes all sorts. Even though large portions of our household either went to school together or have spent the last three years living next-door to each other in college, we’re a diverse bunch. We represent seven subjects, four colleges, three different year groups and a bunch of nationalities – and we’ve even got a token non-student. House extracurriculars range from orchestra to theatre to sailing to film to journalism to the Union(vom), and it creates a constant variety of conversation and selection of guests in our kitchen; never a dull moment.
People love it. We’ve created the brand in the form of our Mega Mansion. On first introductions house members have been known to be asked whether they live in the Mega Mansion. People love the idea of a gigantic enormous house in Cowley where there’s always fun people and something going on, just as long as they don’t actually have to live there – although we quite like the reality as well.
We can go really hard. When we throw events with all hands on deck we can make ’em big, be it the guest list for a party, a house Christmas dinner akin to the feeding of the five thousand, or a multi-cultural-everyone-bring-a-dish-whoops-we’ve-enough-food-for-an-army feast. Also we can play internal hardcore competitive Articulate without exposing our universal inability to win gracefully to the outside world.
Burdens are shared. So the washing up may well be the main source of tension in our household (and I’d hazard a guess most households too), but the sheer volume of housemates does mean that if the house is filthy or the fridge needs an overhaul, even if just half our number mucks in situations that would normally fester for days can be zapped in half an hour. And if we want to invest in a gas alarm so we’re not all accidentally poisoned in our sleep by a forgetful housemate, it will cost us each a coffee a head instead of a coffee machine. And there’s three times the chance of someone remembering to do the bins on a Wednesday. Not that that seems to make any difference whatsoever.
From my experience, sharing your living space with people 24/7 – stressful, frustrating, difficult as it can be – creates friendships that can withstand a lot of things. Ultimately, my favourite thing about the Mega Mansion is that at the end of it if we haven’t all murdered each other (and yeah I’m not ruling it out just yet), I’ll have twice as many former housemates as most of the rest of my university, and a bunch of very close friends. And not to jinx it all before the drama cyclone of finals consumes us all, but in answer to the twelve nervous freshers scoping out our digs for their own year of independent living: yes, I am 90% confident that we will survive the year. In the bizarrely existential words of a drunk friend this evening:
“It’s one less than thirteen, so you know it’s lucky.”