After an unusually and agonisingly long time away, the new term is fast approaching. Although what exactly it is that awaits us remains unclear, certain things about studying in St Andrews are impossible to change. 600 years of history can always be felt, even through a period of what feels like all-encompassing change. Luckily it seems to me that most of our traditions can continue despite the virus – I’ve explained how below.
He’s been dead for half a millennium, so I doubt something so minor as a global pandemic will bother Patrick and his curse too much. Should you probably be worrying more about coronavirus than about stepping on Patrick’s initials and invoking his curse? I won’t be – the former will likely be over in a few years at the latest, while the exam-related curse from the latter could be the thing which finally tips my precariously balanced grades into the abyss of perpetual unemployment. If anything, the pandemic makes stepping on the PH more likely, which brings me onto my next tradition.
If it’s more likely that you’ll step on the PH, then it’s more likely you’ll be joining me in the freezing sea one traumatic early morning in May. Whether you’re looking to lift Patricks curse or simply want an excuse to start the day with a very stiff drink, May Dip is popular enough to raise concerns over distancing. But so long as everyone does keep their distance, there’s no reason we can’t all risk pneumonia together in a beautiful moment of collective misery.
We already know that the most feared weekend of any non-student in St Andrews has been pushed back to Spring Break. Hopefully this means it can take place in whatever passes for normality with Raisin. A socially distanced foam fight might not have quite the same allure, however: perhaps the long-suffering lawn outside the quad might have a brief respite at last.
The St Andrews red gown is a veritable icon, and so it gives me great solace that this tradition will not change in the slightest under current circumstances – because no one wore them to begin with. The main experience of this tradition is not the wearing of the gown so much as the exorbitant purchase of the gown, the careful storage of the gown for several years and the eventual disposal of the gown, mostly unloved save for the first pier walk of each year. Does this mean I regret my purchase? No – the disappointment at wasting a substantial amount of money is a necessary induction into the St Andrews economy. I honestly believe that the fortifying experience of buying my gown saved me from some sort of heart failure while trying to find a halfway affordable flat. An essential tradition if one wishes for the true St Andrews experience.
A Dubious Relationship with Alcohol
If I can find evidence that Patrick Hamilton was a raging drunkard, then this will be the tradition which connects all the others: even the gowns originate from trying to stop students spending all day in the pub. It is also the one great St Andrews tradition we can be sure will remain unchanged. Aikmans may well close again. We may yet live in a town bereft of pubs and club. In spite of all this, I draw comfort from this unavoidable truth: I am far from the only student at this university to have a dubious relationship with alcohol. It’s fundamental to our culture! And nothing short of total prohibition will be able to change that.
While next term won’t be exactly normal, it seems like we can still look forward to some of the experiences which make the bubble unique. The virus might even open up new possibilities. Will this be the year I fully devote myself to studying? Will this be the year I finally manage to sample every gin in town? In this regard, the future looks bright – then blurry, then dizzy and finally sideways.