The Woes of Self-Catering: a tale of novelties already worn off

The Woes of Self Catering image

Don’t let the onions get to you. Thank goodness for science students.

Student quote of the day:

“Yeah, but can mushrooms actually go moldy? I mean, they’re a fungus already right? Okay, right – someone Google ‘how can you tell when mushrooms will give you food poisoning.’”

Honourable mentions:

• “Anyone have an egg cup? No? Well I guess a shot glass would do just as well…”
• “Guys I’ve eaten so many biscuits this afternoon I’ve given myself heart-burn.”
• “Jam donuts don’t really keep do they? Looks like I’m going to have to eat all 5 now then. Such is life.”

So I should probably mention the fact that I’m in self-catered accommodation for my first year, and although I’m aware I’m extremely lucky to have managed to secure a place in one of the coveted new Lafrowda blocks (oh so shiny and oh so close to the Forum) the novelty of having to cook for myself has worn off pretty damn quick. We’re currently two weeks in, and I’ve already resorted to four beans-on-toast meals out of sheer lack of inspiration to make anything else. I seriously don’t know how my parents managed it for the past 18 years.

The weigh up between self-catered and catered wasn’t a cut and dry decision for me – the flexibility of having my own meals when and where I wanted appealed hugely, but then so did the idea of not having to actually prepare said-meals. In the end I went for self-catered (against my parents’ advice), my argument to myself going something like this:

‘C’mon now Tess, you’re a reasonably intelligent, practical sort of person – you’re also doing a History degree for goodness sake, I should think you’re able to whip yourself up a meal twice a day’ (note: breakfast doesn’t require ‘whipping up’ – thank goodness for Shreddies).

The fact that Second Year is unavoidably self-catered also served as a sticking point: why delay the inevitability of culinary independence when I could get a head start now?

I’m not sure how much repeated cycles of chilli, pasta and tomato sauce, curry from a jar and stir fry (and once, exotically, risotto) count as a ‘head-start’, but although our flat all like to mutually complain while sweating away at the hob, self-catering isn’t as bad as I feared it’d be. The flexibility is really not something to be underestimated (breakfast in bed at 10am – booshucks to the catered folk) and as mildly pathetic as it may sound, going food shopping isn’t too bad either. There’s something vaguely satisfying about traipsing around the aisles with a trolley full of food that is purely just for yourself. I have also learnt a fair bit already, so here’s a few pointers:

Don’t buy too much. Ridiculously easy to do, but do you really need that special offer for 12 caramel yoghurt pots? Even with the bargains and BOGOFs, try to resist: there’s nothing more disheartening than throwing out food you’ve paid for because it’s gone off. (Which happens a lot.)

Vegetables. If you’re going to buy them, eat them. Simply putting them in the trolley to satisfy your moral compass on healthy eating and parents’ incessant texts about vitamins won’t actually do you any good.

Plan ahead. Having a meal plan makes sure you only buy what you need, and that you use all of it. It sounds onerous, but it’s really not too much effort to put aside 15 mins on a Sunday night to jot some meals down for the week.

Find a big supermarket. Oh it would be only too easy to buy 90% of the weeks’ shopping in the Market Place in the Forum – if it weren’t so heinously expensive. Walking the 20-minute walk to Morrisons isn’t ideal (and even less so on the way back, laden with shopping bags) but with other people it can be quite a nice chance to chat, and it’s definitely worth it for a full weeks’ worth of food for under £25.

Don’t let the onions get to you. Thank goodness for science students.

Top 11 Tips for Freshers’ – Part 2

• Use Freshers’ as a chance to explore Exeter

When you’re not socialising with people in your flat/block, out touring the clubs and bars of Exeter, going to academic inductions, timetabling in society tasters and oh, y’know, getting a bit of sleep in there now and then – I’d recommend using your precious spare moments to have a look around your university hometown. Exeter is a genuinely lovely city, and it’s worth orienting yourself (there’s the Cathedral, here’s Nandos etc.) before term starts in full swing. You’ll quickly find yourself doing a fair bit of work, so make the most of Freshers’ to do some tourist-ing.

• Freshers’ Fair – BE WARNED

So after an awesome morning at the Freshers’ Fair I was going to pop into town to do some food shopping when I looked in my purse and realised to my unpleasant surprise that I had no money. Literally. (Well, I had £3.20 if I’m honest, but that wasn’t going to get me much in Sainsbury’s.)

Funny, I thought to myself, I could’ve sworn I had taken out £100 the day before. Then it dawned on me – slowly and painfully – the horrifyingly realisation that I’d managed to spend nearly 100 quid at the Freshers’ Fair in society sign-up fees.

Terrifyingly, it’s very easy to do unless you keep close tabs on what you’re handing over, and my shocking total was by no means the worst I’ve heard of. The big sporting societies; football, rugby, netball and rowing come to mind, can easily be upwards of £230.

With this in mind, I’d say be very careful when it comes to the Freshers’ Fair – try to be brutal in which societies you go for, and don’t be swayed by the free t-shirts or other ‘gifts’ you’re actually paying £40 for. Be honest with yourself: are you really going to go to that 9am Pilates class every week? Or the 6am training down at the river for rowing on Saturday and Sunday? (I kid you not.) Aim for a maximum of 3-4 societies you really feel passionate about, and if you change your mind later it’s really easy to join online through the Student Guild website.

• Freshers’ Flu: it’s not a myth

I genuinely thought I’d be immune, but I was oh so very wrong. For full, gross, snotty details, see my other post – ‘Freshers’ Flu- A True Story (unfortunately)

• Look ahead to next week

I cannot stress this one enough, particularly for humanities students. Seminars require reading and prep, and if you’ve got one first thing on a Monday morning nothing throws you off like not knowing you were supposed to read those 6 chapters that the tutor will be going over in the two hours you’re with them. It’s a tad annoying having to put some time aside for reading, but definitely worth remembering in the hectic 9am-3am week of Freshers’.

• Freshers’ can be overwhelming, but it’s only a week

I’m normally pretty introvert when it comes to socialising, and disappointed my parents hugely by never really expressing an interest in clubbing (Parents: “But Tess, you’re a teenager! You should be out enjoying your youth!” Me: “This is so not something you should be complaining about.”) but I must admit, I made a huge effort for Freshers’. It was certainly draining, but pushing yourself to accept all and any invitations to go out, have pizza, visit this bar, go to this social, etc. etc. is, in my opinion, definitely worth it for this one week. I met some awesome people by being overtly-social that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and now I’ve established contacts I feel secure enough to go to bed at 9pm 🙂

Overall, Freshers’ can be hugely overwhelming, slightly terrifying, and also great fun. Don’t worry if you tend to (as I did) feel slightly more inclined to the ‘overwhelmed’ end of the spectrum than ‘having the time of my life.’ Freshers’ week is chiefly a chance to get to know people, have your introductory lectures and maybe trial a society or two – it doesn’t need to be more than that. It’s also important to remember that Freshers’ isn’t a good standard for university life as a whole, in fact, it’s pretty exceptional. Once the work kicks in you fall into a routine that, from my perspective at least, is already more my style.

Top 11 Tips for Freshers’ – Part 1

It’s the Monday after the first week of lectures, and Freshers’ feels like it was years ago already. With one whole week’s worth of university experience now under my belt however, I feel fully qualified to give some advice on the best way to tackle the first week at uni. I imagine everybody’s experience of arriving at university and Freshers’ week is different, but these are the life-changing lessons I think I’d be suggest to bear in mind:

• Bring a doorstop

No, seriously. In pretty much all halls you’ll be blessed with the wonders of two tonne fire doors, which, while doing a fabulous job at keeping you from burning alive in your beds, aren’t the best for socialising. The cliché of propping open your door for all of arrivals weekend and hollering an over-enthusiastic ‘hi!!’ at anybody who walks past is not to be underrated as a sure-fire way to find some friendly folk.

• Be prepared for Freshers’ events in advance

After joining the Freshers’ Facebook group on results day like the over-keen kinda gal I am, it didn’t take long before my feed was saturated with Freshers’ event advertisements and ticket sales. I bought a selection of the ones I thought looked good, and some of them were definitely worth getting in advance.

• ….But not too prepared

At the same time, I’d definitely advise not to buy everything just because you feel you should. If the idea of going on a pub crawl around Exeter dressed like a Minion doesn’t appeal in August, chances are it won’t in September. Plus, despite the Events Coordinators terrorising folk into believing there were only 10 tickets left, many people later try and sell theirs on Facebook, and it’s pretty easy to pick up one cheaper if you decide to go. Nothing is more annoying than paying for a ticket only to find out it clashes with an academic induction (bye bye £22), or that none of your new-found friends are going, so in many ways it’s worth holding off and avoiding wasting money.

• ‘Flatmates not Soul-mates’

This was my Dad’s final piece of well-intentioned advice as my parents left me hovering awkwardly outside my flat door, working up the courage to brave going in. 99% of the time, you’ll get on with at least some of the people you’re sharing with pretty well, but this doesn’t mean you’re all going to stay life-long friends. Some do, which is awesome, and some don’t at all – in which case you can always move to another accommodation without too much hassle. I’m fortunate enough to be in a nice flat of sociable, chatty people, but there’s a fair bit we don’t have in common and I’ve come to realise that’s totally okay. I may be living with them for a year, but they’re not the only people at university. Don’t let tentative friendships with flatmates stop you from going out and meeting new people!

• Make friends with your flat cleaner

Our cleaner Sue, bless her soul, has had her work cut out with our regular bombsite of a kitchen already. Naturally, in apology we all made an extra effort to be nice to her, and so far we’ve established a pretty good working relationship. Not only has Sue assured us that during Freshers’ and near exam times the cleaning crew are extra lenient because they understand how stressed we are, but she’s also a gold mine of local advice, and very kindly directed me to the huge Morrisons’ 15 minutes walk away that no-one else seemed to know about (my bank account is very pleased it no longer has to shop in the tiny Tesco Express).

• Try something new

I’m surrendering myself to the clichés because they’re all frustratingly accurate, if somewhat unoriginal. Exeter Freshers’ this year was made up of some 900-odd different events (the booklet was insane) so there is literally no excuse to not do something awesome every day. Whether it’s a Disney Pub Quiz, a Harry Potter Welcome Banquet or a trip to Exmouth for a windsurfing taster, if it sounds like something that might be a laugh, or there’s folk you know going, go for it. You don’t have to want to join the society itself, but definitely make the most of all the discounts and Fresher-orientated events on offer while you can 🙂

More top tips to come in the next post


Freshers’ Flu – A True Story (unfortunately)

“Don’t worry folks,” I’d said to friends and family as I headed off down South, “I’ll be just fine.”

“Mum’s a GP- I must’ve been exposed to every form of cold and flu out there in some form, and I only get sick once every 2 years or so. My immune system is clearly equipped to deal with anything.”

Yeah. Good one Tess.

Despite my over-confidence that I, with my somehow superior immune system, would survive my first week of university sans flu, I was to be proven woefully wrong. Day 2 of Freshers’ I woke up with a pounding headache and a voice that sounded like I’d been gargling sand-paper for my own amusement the night before. This, I decided, while hacking my way to the bathroom, was not how I had envisioned the beginning of Freshers’ week. Having hoped to present myself as a cheery, friendly, sociable sort, I now honestly wanted nothing more than to curl up in my newly made bed and stay there for the rest of the foreseeable future. Combined with the general, overwhelming ‘Wow-I’m-Actually-At-University’ feeling, plus the lingering tears of having said goodbye to the family on Saturday, my grottiness did very little to improve my mood. Staying in for the day and avoiding the rest of the student population in their enviable good health seemed like a very tempting idea, as did ringing home and wrangling some pity.

After an hour of wallowing however, coughing somewhat pathetically to myself at regular intervals, I reluctantly concluded that neither option would do myself any favours, and in fact, both would only make me feel worse. Anyhow, a sense of perspective was needed: I was here for a 4-year degree, I couldn’t be beaten by the small matter of Freshers’ Flu on the second day.

Four Paracetemol and two Strepsils later, I felt just about coherent enough to construct sentences, and so emerged into the communal kitchen avoiding making eye contact and coughing surreptitiously (or I thought so anyway) into my elbow. I was fully expecting to have to stay out of peoples’ way for the rest of the day, as in my present sweaty, coughing and crazy bed-haired form I knew I didn’t exactly make appealing company, and my flatmates had only known me for about 12 hours.

I was to be proven wrong again, only this time considerably more pleasantly.

Instead of my visions of sitting alone in my room all day, suitably pitying flatmates asked how I was doing, offered me every possible kind of cough medicine and even made me a cup of tea. My neighbour was also kind enough to pop her head around my door on a semi-regular basis to ask if I was feeling any better and needed anything. As it turned out, several of them didn’t feel particularly great either, and we established a sort of rota of the healthy looking out for the sick. Many collective rants about the unfairness of Freshers’ Flu being in Freshers’ were had and there was much general griping about the fact that we all usually had fully functioning immune systems.

Flu might not have been a particularly idyllic common interest to bond over, but knowing I wasn’t alone in my sickliness made me feel considerably better. As my mood improved, so did my cough (or that might have been the insane amount of medicine I’d consumed – I like to think it was symbolic though).

Moral of the story: Freshers’ Flu sucks big time, but by pushing myself through it and not allowing myself more wallowing in self-pity than was strictly necessary, I felt a lot better than I would have otherwise. It’s a fact of uni life that most of us will get sick at some point or another, but just because mum isn’t there to make hot lemon tea and you don’t have a TV to curl up in front of, it doesn’t have to be the crisis it sounds like.


Well hey there!

So I may have an official bio and all, but I thought I couldn’t really start this off without a standard introductory blog post. My name is Tess (Tessa if you must, Theresa under no circumstances ever) and I’m studying History with a Year Study Abroad (2014-2018) at the University of Exeter.

I’m a Midlands-er at heart, originally from Nottingham, but am allying with the Northerners now that I’m at Exeter as they appear to be in need of support given how hugely outnumbered they are by the vast majority of the university student population, who all seem to originate from:

a)      London and surrounding area

b)      Brighton

c)      Anywhere south of Cambridgeshire

(I should mention that this hasn’t stopped pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to being lovely.)

Exeter was my first choice of university and I was (and still am) ridiculously, inexplicably, wouldn’t-stop-grinning-like-a-loon-for-a-month happy about getting in. I’m enormously in love with the University campus, the city, my course, and Devon in general already, but I know it’s not always going to be easy.

Through this blog I hope to keep track of some of the highs and lows of my time here, and to give an honest account of all aspects of day-to-day university life. I’d ideally like to be able to provide anyone out there reading this (hi mum) with a genuine insight into the student experience at Exeter i.e. not necessarily the flawless, glossy Prospectus viewpoint, where everyone is scarily attractive, grins incessantly and it’s always sunny.

I’m not much of a concise writer, but I’ll do my best to limit my ramblings to stuff that might actually be useful! Final note, if you’re feeling adventurous and fancy leaving a comment on any post, I will 112% answer 🙂