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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 57 - I'm happy to let students rejoice riotously, but not in my backyard

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.

His friend, 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.

With a 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".

Well, even 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.

Several 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.

When 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.

When the 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 have experienced".

"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 academic aspirants.

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.

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