I was so excited when this article flashed up on my Facebook page. 18 things you’ll only remember if you went to university in Swansea in the 1990s?! Yep, that’s me! I loved the four years I spent there – I made some amazing friends, met my future husband, and found my degree fascinating – and couldn’t wait to reminisce. Except this article did nothing to conjure up the amazing and colourful experience that I and, judging by posts on my Facebook page, thousands of others, had.
Yep, we cut out our 50p a shot tokens for the vodka bar from the student newspaper, The Waterfront (as a writer for the paper, I had an unlimited supply); and yes, we frequented The Potters Wheel (even back then the lack of an apostrophe confused me) and the Uplands Cafe… but I finished the article feeling rather deflated. It made the student experience at Swansea look miserable and grey, when it was anything but. So, for myself and all my other friends who were disappointed by the article, I present to you the REAL 18 things you’ll only remember if you went to university in Swansea in the 1990s.
1. Drinking pints from plastic cups on Fulton House steps every time the sun was shining
Situated in the centre of the university campus, Fulton House was home to exam and dining halls, cashpoint machines, the ENTs kiosk, a shop and other such things. However, it was the Fulton House steps that were the truly important part of this building. They were the place you arranged to meet anyone. It was the late 1990s – we didn’t have mobile phones back then so we had to pre-arrange. During my first year, I remember seeing a group of finalists celebrating their last exam with bottles of Champagne on Fulton House steps. I decided then and there I was going to do the same with my course mates and cried when we finally did. In the interim, I spent many a sunny hour or two, in between lectures, with a plastic pint glass filled with Fosters (£1.30 a pint, bargain!), sat on those steps, with hundreds of other students doing the same. Some days, you’d get treated to the male students having a game of football on the grass in front, too.
2. Getting all dressed up for the Beer Race
How could anyone who studied in Swansea not remember the sight of thousands of students all in home-made fancy dress, necking half a pint in various pubs, descending from Brynmill to town, culminating in a massive party in Ritzy’s? Particular highlights for me included the year someone in our team thought dressing up as Egyptians would be fun and, despite my better judgement (every year I wanted to be a cheerleader but no one listened to me), I went along with it. Given how much it rains in Swansea, it’s amazing we didn’t consider what would happen to our costumes should there be a downpour. We arrived at our final destination, covered in poster paint, our black Cleopatra style wigs clinging to our faces. One of my housemates could see so little through her wig, she even walked into a lamp post! Bitterly cold, drenched to the skin and worryingly sober, the rest of us were crying with laughter at her. We still talk about it to this day. The next year, we decided not to partake in the pub crawl bit and got drunk in our house and went straight to Ritzy’s instead. And I finally got to be a cheerleader.
3. Painting your face green and white for the annual Varsity match
Ah, I loved the Varsity match, the annual sports battle between Swansea and Cardiff Universities. All the sports teams took part, but the highlight for most was the men’s rugby firsts game. Those guys were legends in the university – no surprises in a country obsessed with rugby. We were on a winning streak while I was at Swansea Uni. Heck, we even went up to Twickenham one year and saw our boys become BUSA champions. The Varsity match alternated between Cardiff and Swansea. Faces painted green and white, we would either board the dozens of coaches headed for Cardiff, singing our way down the M4, or descend on the pubs around the stadium, a sea of green and white. “You are my Swansea, my only Swansea, you make me happy, when skies are grey…” or later in the night, “You’re going home in a Swansea ambulance”. My Swansea Uni rugby top still hangs in my wardrobe 14 years after graduating.
4. The queue to pee in the cave at the annual beach party
After the exams were over, thousands of students were bussed down to the beautiful Caswell Bay, for the Geography Society’s annual beach party. Cans of warm lager were served from the backs of vans, people lit BBQs, bands played… and a certain cave became designated toilet for the night. Even on a beach, wildly drunk, we still remembered our manners, and queued politely until it was our turn. The beach party got stopped in my final year due to health and safety concerns. Apparently a bunch of students got caught when the tide came in. It made me mad at the time but as a sensible grown up, now I can see the decision was probably for the best!
5. The England and Wales five nations match
Most English students don’t realise how passionately people in Wales feel about this particular rugby game until their first spring term at Swansea. All the union bars – JCs, Divas and Bar Hendre/Idols – would be full to bursting with English students singing about their sweet chariots and Welsh ones telling them where to stick them. The singing was deafening, but that was nothing compared to the drunken roars every time someone scored. I met my husband at Swansea. I’m Welsh, he’s English. We watched it together once in Divas. What was I thinking?! To this day, I can’t bear to watch the game with him.
6. Waiting for an hour to use the computers in the library…
Now that I’m a proper grown-up, I do some part-time lecturing at a university myself. My students each have their own Apple iMac, usually pimped with some crazy outer case. Back in the second half of the 1990s, we didn’t have computers in our student houses. Most of us hand-wrote our essays back then. It took forever and you had to decide whether to Tippex out your mistakes or start again, not to mention counting the number of words yourself. Towards the end of my degree, typing out essays became more common. This meant booking a slot on a computer at the library or waiting for an hour until one became available. You then had to print it out and hope your pages didn’t get stuck in the printer or mistakenly picked up by someone else.
7. …and the year someone discovered the photocopying code
I spent hours copying out relevant paragraphs from books in the uni library to help with essays and exam revision. If I was feeling particularly extravagant, I would load up my photocopying card and print off a few pages. And then someone discovered a photocopying code which allowed you to copy for free! News of this magic number spread like wildfire across campus and soon everyone was printing off whole chapters of books. I always wondered where the code came from. Did some department suddenly get presented with a bill of thousands of pounds? Whatever. It saved me a fortune at the time.
8. Queueing for an hour to get into Divas every Thursday, Friday and Saturday
We all knew that other university unions had their own full-scale nightclubs – but we adored Divas. It might have been small, but the combination of cheesey music, cheap alcohol and the adjoining Divas Diner made it a top night out. So much so, that some weeks you’d go there on a Thursday (karaoke night), Friday and Saturday. You had to get there an hour before it opened though and queue under the steps. Great fun in the Welsh winter. We found coke bottles topped up with vodka helped keep us warm. Finally, some bright spark in the ENTs team decided to sell tickets. It made it so much easier.
9. Getting the bus down to the air field for the annual summer ball
The summer ball never lived up to expectations. You’d always lose your friends or see the person you had a crush on snogging someone else. One year, one of my male housemates had five girls crying on him about some bloke or other at various points throughout the night. But I loved the bus ride there. Seeing a bunch of students dressed in (hired) tuxes and (high street) ball gowns was surreal. Especially the surfer dudes who you had only ever seen in shorts and flip flops no matter what the weather was doing. The queue for the bus was the first chance you got to see everyone all glammed up. It was only after graduating I realised how hilarious the sight of all of us in black-tie drinking from cans or plastic glasses must have been.
10. The Wednesday battle between AU night at Escape and funk night at Barons
Oh, I hated Barons. That terrible funk music that all sounded the same. How hot and smoky it was in there. The odd clothes people wore. Three of my house mates loved it though. The rest of us preferred sports night at Escape. Sporty men in suits plus cheesey music. What was there not to love?! This was a constant battle in my friendship group. I sometimes went to Barons begrudgingly but all night my mind ached for what was going on down the road at Escape. I had a severe case of FOMO before it was even a hashtag.
11. Chips and cheese at Kings Diner after Ritzy’s on a Monday night
You’d never go there during the day, but after a night of drinking and dancing at Ritzy’s, the discerning student would head to Kings Diner for chips and cheese. I remember some of my housemates telling me that chips, topped with grated cheese, was a Welsh thing. They’d never heard of it before coming to Swansea. I’m not sure if that’s true, but thick-cut chips, a good handful of grated Cheddar, topped with a shed load of salt and vinegar, was the perfect way to end a night out.
12. Jumping in a Yellow Cab
Bellies full of beer and chips, Swansea students relied on Yellow Cabs to take them home at the end of the night. £3 to the student village; about the same to Uplands or Brynmill. There were other cab firms in Swansea, but good old Yellow Cabs was by far the cheapest.
13. Dancing in the Knab Rock on the Mumbles Mile
In the mid-1990s, the Mumbles Mile was still great. I don’t think the locals especially liked the students turning up every Saturday, but it was before Wind Street took off and in the days when students wouldn’t have dreamed of going into town on at the weekend, so that’s what we did. I never did the whole mile. I never even tried. We’d have one in the White Rose, dash down to the William Hancock or the rugby club or somewhere else in between and then on to The Knab Rock, which later became The Hungry Bear. It was the best place for a boogie. Sometimes we’d head on to Neptunes or Cinderella’s but mostly we couldn’t be bothered. I met the man who is now my husband on the Mumbles Mile, outside the Knab Rock. His mate was pulling my mate and I got stuck talking to him. We didn’t get together until a year or so later, but it’s a special place to me.
14. Thinking your university residence was the best
We all laughed at the rich kids for wearing gowns to dinner at Clyne Halls. The kids in Sibly and Mary Williams pretended to laugh at those in Lewis Jones for peeing in their rooms (they had en suites rather than communcal bathrooms). The kids on campus laughed at those in the student village for having to get a bus to uni. But those of us who lived at Hendrefoelan knew what an amazing place it was. Our own little bar (Bar Hendre or Idols, depending on when you studied there) with fancy dress themed nights (I worked there and we absolutely loved hosting the theme nights), karaoke, film night, and quiz night; house parties every weekend; BBQs on the lawns outside our houses; sneaking onto the sports pitches after hours for a drunken kickabout. It was like Butlins. My next door neighbours even kept gold fish in their bath!
15. Spending a fortune at the book shop on campus
We didn’t have Amazon back then. We’d go to the bookstore on campus, order our books, and a week or two later they would arrive. Students these days don’t know how easy they have it.
16. The Smoking Dog living up to its name
It’s hard to remember the days when people still smoked in pubs… but, as anyone who ever drank in The Smoking Dog will testify, they sure did. This student pub would leave your eyes watering, your hair and clothes stinking, but we still loved it.
17. Going to Verdis with your parents
You’d never dream of taking them to any of the places you went to eat with your uni mates but this was one place you could guarantee a posh meal washed down with a gorgeous ice cream – and you didn’t have to pay a penny for it yourself. It was probably the only time you ever saw Mumbles sober.
18. The car that got swept to sea
Okay, so unless you were in my social circle at uni, you probably won’t remember this – but it’s too good not to share. It should become part of Swansea Uni folk lore. Some of my housemates decided they wanted to go and watch the sun rise in the Gower one morning. I didn’t go because I had something important on that day and couldn’t face waking up at the crack of dawn. He parked his car on the beach, they all walked off to enjoy the view…. and when he came back, the tide had come in and his car was floating away. People with tow ropes and bigger vehicles tried to help, and eventually it was rescued. The poor lad has never lived it down.
I’d love to hear your memories of Swansea Uni in the 1990s. It was a really special place to study.
*****************12 more things you may remember about Swansea Uni – ADDITION – 9th AUGUST 2014***********
Wow! I am in absolute shock at the response to this blog. At the time of writing, it has been read almost 11,000 times in countries across the world. Thank you all so much. I’m so thrilled you all have so many happy memories of your time in Swansea and I have really appreciated everyone’s comments, likes and shares. I’ve loved the people who have taken the time to share their memories both on this blog and on Facebook. You’ve helped me remember some more awesome things about Swansea – so, with thanks to those who have inspired me, here you go:
19. Lunch in the refectory.
Resembling a giant school canteen, this is where you went for a hot meal between lectures. The food wasn’t great. Most things came with chips but you could get a plateful of hot grub for a couple of quid. Brilliant news for the hungover student with an empty fridge. I loved it for the people watching.
20. Tuesday all you can drink night at Spoofers
I had forgotten about this bar until a friend reminded me. Probably because it was one of those places where you had to pay an entrance fee and then you could drink as much as you like. Lethal.
21. The illegal rave in the quarry in the Village
Summer 1998, Idols had just closed up for the night and we all headed to the quarry at the top of the village for a full-scale illegal rave. There was music, there were lights, there was alcohol, there were (probably, I guess) drugs. We were having an awesome time…. and then the police descended and that was it. I seem to remember it was a guy called Adam who organised it, but I may be wrong. Whoever, it was such a surreal experience.
22. Super Nintendo and his green cat
Another one for people who lived in Hendrefoelan. The university gave him the job title Super Intendant and he was the man in charge of the Village. Being students though, he was universally known as Super Nintendo, after the games console. He knew that’s what we called him and I think he secretly loved it. He drank in Idols a lot and was lovely. I don’t actually remember this myself, but someone who commented on this blog told me that his cat got painted green! Wow!
23. Getting to Icon and Ritzy’s early on Thursday 80s night and buying Decoder for 80p a bottle
That drink was vile. But it was 80p a bottle, I think, if you got to the club before 10pm. And so we drank it. Even thinking about the taste of Decoder makes me want to puke. But the music was cool.
24. Queuing for hours to use the payphones
This was definitely true for those of us who lived in the student village. Hubby tells me it was the same in halls. Standing there with a pile of change, in the cold, while the person in front of you chatted away for eternity. You could guarantee as soon as they finished their call and you were ready to phone home, someone’s sixth form sweetheart would call up and ask you to knock on their door to fetch them. You’d then have to wait another hour before you could call home. Or you’d give up and leave it another week to call home – or perhaps your folks would page you wondering if you were still alive. It wasn’t until my third and fourth year that mobile phones started appearing everywhere. I remember the first people in my gang to get mobiles debating different packages and tariffs. I thought it was all so unnecessarily I wrote a big rant in The Waterfront about it. Oh, how little I knew! I genuinely don’t know how I would cope without my iPhone these days!
25. Doing all your banking at Lloyds in the Taliesin building
How many of you reading still have a bank account with a Swansea sort code? Students like an easy life and so many of us banked with Lloyds purely because it was there. I remember the frustrations of housemates who banked elsewhere having to pay to withdraw their money on campus, or borrowing money until we got to town and they could go to their own bank and not get charged. Half the time people only used to withdraw a fiver anyway.
26. Nicknaming The Tafarn on the Lake The Pub on the Pond – and then being amazed when it changed its name to the latter
It was the pub next to campus that you’d go to for a treat or when your parents were visiting. Students, being students, called it Pub on the Pond. And then it bemused us by relaunching with that very name. Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
27. The bollards in Singleton Hospital
The bus route to uni went through the hospital… and over the scariest looking bollards, which disappeared into the ground as the bus went over them. As one reader of this blog commented, “Everyone knew someone who had seen the bollards lift a car up. But you never saw it yourself.”
28. Café Mambo on the Kingsway
Ah, they did such amazing cocktails there! It was the place everyone went to warm up before departmental or society balls or for someone’s birthday. It felt so decadent back then.
29. Tea for £1 at the Fly Half and Firkin
That pub certainly knew its student market. And then we’d all buy a four-pint pitcher for £4. Fed and drunk for less than a fiver! Or was that just me? Hubby and I had our first proper date there. Classy.
30. The time someone stole the owl statue from outside the Talisein
It was three-foot tall and made out of copper. Yet still someone managed to carry it home! It made the Waterfront and the Evening Post. Damn students and their beer trophies. It did finally get returned. Imagine trying to sneak that out of your house and back to campus?!
Happy days indeed!
Have you had children since leaving Swansea Uni? If so, you might find this blog amusing…. 20 differences between weekends before and after children.
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