AS Robin Cook, the former Foreign
Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons, will know, Hamlet was a
student at Wittenberg University, probably attending his dad’s funeral and
his uncle’s coronation during a gap year at Elsinore.
Horatio, also a fellow student, lurked with him around the castle
corridors of kingly power and we know what happened - ghost-walking at all
hours, general disturbance and particular mayhem, not forgetting Hamlet’s
probable blowing of his tuition cash on carousing: "We’ll teach you to
drink deep ere you depart."
Nothing changes. Students?
Alleged disturbers of genteel, suburban peace with continual partying and
disrupters of tenemental routine by insouciantly ignoring requests to
share in keeping the stairs as clean as old-time hospital wards and
washing the common back passages; something that Mr Cook, the owner of a
£200,000 flat at Edinburgh’s upmarket Merchiston Crescent, will doubtless
be adept at performing.
I once saw a film that showed Transylvanian peasants
merrymaking at night in a village market place. Suddenly, one old rustic
gave a terror-stricken yell. A light was flickering in Dracula’s castle;
all Hell was swiftly sliding out of the sarcophagus.
little less intensity, that is how many residents, possibly unfairly,
regard the arrival of students in their midst. Certainly, the MP for
Livingston, a former student himself, then bearded like a minor Assyrian
prophet, and not averse to joining in raucous partying, now regards
students as about as necessary for his suburban serenity as a marriage
licence for a tomcat.
Opposing plans to house students in a multiple
occupancy tenancy above his flat, Mr Cook wrote to the licensing section
of the City of Edinburgh Council, pointing out his prominence in public
life and stressing the importance that his house re-main a place of
privacy, "secure from any form of confrontation" and free from the noise
level of youthful tenants.
Most of the other flats are occupied by retired
people and Mr Cook indicated that a students’ incursion would threaten the
stair’s unique "demographic character".
He has not only upset the Prime
Minister, Tony Blair, with his anti-Iraq war stance, but, worse, has made
students feel they have drained a bitter "happy hour" cup and caused a
tabloid columnist to liken him to "a tedious old bore".
tedious, let alone pompous, old bores, have a right to residential peace,
and I have some sympathy for Mr Cook’s aspirations to live in a suburban
Nirvana free from potentially persistent partying.
decades ago, I lived in a flat in Newington, in a stair that was kept by
residents at a Florence Nightingale state of cleanliness. That changed
when four, then eight, then who knew how many students moved into the
second-floor flat underneath. Bang went our demographic character.
Confrontations were inevitable when not only their flat but also the stair
became arenas for partying into the small, sleep-shattered hours.
residents protested, one lad said beguilingly: "Surely, if we are
reasonably quiet during the week-days, we should be allowed to let rip at
week-ends." Once, the mob locked themselves into their flat and lost the
key. Entrance and exit to the house was by a rope belayed to a door handle
and draped over a window sill, an ascent and descent that only stopped
when neighbours called the police and landlord.
students left, after more neighbour complaints, I was invited by the
flat’s owner to see the once desirable residence, resembling a combination
of rubbish dump and building demolition site.
I still hear bitter criticisms
of students’ anti-social behaviour in multiple occupancy flats, de-spite
what Rhoda Campbell, the president of the Napier Students’ Association,
says. Accusing Mr Cook of discrimination against students, she claimed
they "no longer have the time or money for the continuous partying he may
"Words, words, words", said Hamlet. Suffering
neighbours of students possessing a depleted sense of social
responsibility, want more stringent action by university, police and local
authorities against such arrogant and uncaring disturbers of the peace who
are a hyper-active minority among largely good-mannered and hard-working
Nevertheless, the word "students" still produces a
Transylvanian shudder among house dwellers. I do not grudge our budding
intelligentsia the chance to rejoice riotously. I just don’t want them as
neighbours when they are doing it.