In so many ways, the St Andrews experience can be defined by a set of questions. Throughout most of first year, this consists of name, hall, and subject. Depending on how bad your memory is, these questions could extend through to second or even third year. Aside from the embarrassing prospect of asking someone’s name for the third time, a final, seasonal question may also appear on the roster: spring break.
Whether you trekked the escarpments of an ancient Peruvian ruin, broke your finger in a Budapest ruin bar, or comfortably cruised through an embarrassing amount of Netflix, one thing is clear: the return to town brings about friends, parties, Canada Goose jackets, but also an unspoken sense of victory. When travelling, it’s the Bubble against the world — and only one of us can win.
The first front is likely to be drawn at clubs, a battle in which St Andrews tends to lack infantry. The experience of one of my friends from Newcastle produced a particularly prickly response: that St Andrews hadn’t been lit since the last martyr was burned. While the diverse holiday locales of spring break (Berlin, Barcelona, London) have the capability to embody a certain zeitgeist, it seems that St Andrews’ clubbing limitations cause it to have a bit of an identity crisis. The clubs St Andreans experienced on spring break (Tresor, Opium, Embargos, Berghain) all know what they are.
St Andrews clubs, however, appear to embody a set of town halls with multiple personality disorder. One night, The Rule expects to put up a set of lone star bunting and portray the American South, while the next night it whacks up a few black bin liners and becomes a rave. It is also common knowledge that to enjoy a night at Ma Bells or The Vic, the average student requires a blood alcohol level equivalent to general anaesthetic (something I discovered at my first sober Ma Bells Tuesday several weeks ago).
The sad fact is that when it comes to clubbing, we are not exactly the leaders in anything. Our drinks are expensive, yet the venues don’t show it. Club 601 has enough technical range to double as a theatre, yet the best effect you can expect is the room spin from your fourth Pablo. The traditions of Raisin and May Dip paint a picture of going till the break of dawn, yet our clubs all close at 2 am. It seems like we are constantly on the back foot.
Retreating to the second line of boozing, we find we have more ammunition. As a self-confessed “Gap Yah,” I can say St Andrews’ local pubs hold their own compared to anywhere I have been, be it a Gurkha watering hole in Nepal or one of Munich’s historic beer halls. The great problem they do face is the struggle to embrace the “mom and pop” feel, or to go “all out” in an effort to compete with exotic spring break destinations. The pubs in St Andrews also face the difficult dichotomy of whether to be an expensive tourist trap or an inexpensive place that is owned more by town than gown.
Despite the glorious array of pubs and beers available, the fact that we, as students, do not provide a market all year-round means sadly pubs across St Andrews must focus on other customers. It is difficult to find a true pub that is distinctly student.
Some of these realisations can be considered harsh, or even treacherous, but they are crucial to understanding the most important thing about St Andrews: that it is made by its students. Lasting memories (or lack of them) reside not in the generic club nights of sixth form, but in being put on trial by your sports club, being forced to make a pyramid on the PH, or riding one of Tesco’s many food delivery carriages down Market Street. Sure, our town can be bland, but why else would we have an excuse to be trailblazers?
Why else would we have given birth to an events culture whose variety puts our neighbouring universities to shame? Why else would I be able to deafen myself at Wax Rooms before watching a Ballroom Dance Society demonstration or monologue for On The Rocks? Despite all those conversations over pints and extortionate Pret coffees about how small and boring our surroundings can be, ultimately St Andrews is a blank canvas, waiting for the next student to honour history or make it for themselves. We must also not forget, perhaps more importantly, that we are integral to St Andrews.
Talking to friends across the United Kingdom and Europe (soon to be completely separate entities), you quickly see how students are being robbed of their enjoyment by tourists who have no care for kind of mess they leave behind and locals who feel more entitled to the place than they do. Whatever the flashpoints between town and gown may be, there can be no denying that, from the daytime hustle and bustle to the eclectic orchestra of sounds that rises every night, we are the beating heart of this town. Whatever the outside world of Spring Break may have endowed, there is one reason St Andrews will always shine through the fog: this Bubble is ours. The only question you need ask yourself is, “What comes next?”