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ALEXANDRA SHULMAN: Our children at college need care – not cages

ALEXANDRA SHULMAN: Our children at college need care – not cages

What a horrible time to be a university student. Fenced in at Manchester, banned from leaving the precincts at Cambridge, and all the others deprived, like the rest of us, of essential human connections under the draconian shadow of Covid.

Although university years are often held up as golden and glorious – a time for finding yourself, making lifelong friends and honing intellectual skills – they can be immensely difficult for many.

I write as one who, although my university days are long behind me, still remembers how it was then that I suffered my first problems with my mental health (although nobody called it mental health then). I know what it was like to be very disturbed – in my case it was eventually diagnosed as severe panic disorder – and how survival felt dependent on being able to rush back to home and parents.

Not that they could help or make me feel safe, but at least I knew they could put up with my agoraphobia, claustrophobia and, when the attacks swept over and I couldn’t breathe, the constant conviction I was going to die. It certainly wasn’t fair to dump responsibility for caring for me on friends who, like me, hadn’t the foggiest what was going on.

ALEXANDRA SHULMAN: What a horrible time to be a university student. Fenced in at Manchester, banned from leaving the precincts at Cambridge, and all the others deprived, like the rest of us, of essential human connections under the draconian shadow of Covid 

Students in Manchester raged about being ‘penned in’ after metal fences were ominously erected around their halls on the first day of England’s new shutdown yesterday

This is only relevant because now I realise how far from alone I was in this experience. And I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to feel that way and be unable to get home, or even easily access medical support, due to the current restrictions.

Going away to uni, even if you don’t develop a major problem, is a precarious time. Sure, there are some who breeze in and within days have joined societies and WhatsApp groups, made a bunch of new friends and are simply thrilled to be away from mum and dad. Too often, though, that’s not the case. 

Late teens is one of the most vulnerable ages for mental health – sadly, you have only to look at the suicide figures, particularly among males, to see that. 

For many students, it is the first time they have left home and the first time they have been responsible for themselves. Once the duvet and computer are unpacked in the soulless hall of residence bedroom, it’s time to confront a world of strangers.

That’s not easy at any point, let alone when you are battling social distancing restrictions and the only people you are going to see face-to-face are in your shared kitchen.

And then there are the academic pressures. With no physical meetings with tutors, it’s much harder to strike up the rapport that might support you when the going gets tough.

Joe Hindley, 19, a first-year maths student, said: ‘We’ve just been really frustrated. There’s no benefit we can see to them being up.’ Pictured: The fence being torn down

No browsing library shelves, no congregating in the cafeteria for regular breaks, no eyeing up the neighbouring desk for potential romantic interest, let alone no pub life.

It puts a huge emphasis on any student’s ability to manage their own workload, which would normally be offset by so much other activity.

I made good friends in my first year at uni, but it all completely and unexpectedly unravelled in the second.

Others are felled by loneliness in the first terms, crack under the pressure of finals or, right now, are simply miserable, trapped in an experience which is completely unlike what they signed up for and which they will spend years paying for.

I know so many parents who are having to talk their children down over long, frantic and sad phone calls, telling them to sit it out, take one day at a time, see if they can stay put. And there are many young people who, even before this new lockdown, were too frightened of being unwitting Covid carriers to escape for a much needed weekend of parental TLC.

Many people are having difficulties in this crisis and the best that can be done is support the most vulnerable, whoever they are.

Universities should be focusing on making sure they are taking care to do just that, rather than caging them in.

My food lessons may be a recipe for disaster

Restaurants enjoyed a brief bonanza as we all rushed out for our last suppers. Shades of the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball before the troops headed off to Waterloo were evident at those we went to. Tables of customers determined to enjoy themselves and grateful, emotional staff.

We had intended to eat out only once but, as the Wednesday deadline arrived, contemplating a minimum 28 days stuck at home, we legged it out again to a local favourite.

Now it’s back to home cooking, but this time without that ‘let’s all pull together’ feeling that led to countless chain recipes flooding our inboxes (possibly no bad thing, as the tenth inventive way with harissa popped up).

So in order to divert my ill humour as the sole house chef, in a rash moment my loved one, who has only scrambled eggs and salad dressing in his repertoire, has suggested I teach him how to cook.

Salvation or catastrophe?

The truth is ALL our shops are essential

If you were a small retailer, wouldn’t you classify yourself as an essential business like countless patisseries, delis, florists and pet shops are doing?

I know I would. Shopkeepers are a determined tribe needing barrel-loads of self-belief. Willingly defining themselves as inessential is unlikely to be part of their mindset.

ALEXANDRA SHULMAN: viera is my guilty TV secret. Each season it’s more enjoyably ludicrous

Riviera? I watch it for Julia’s high heels!

Riviera is my guilty TV secret. Each season it’s more enjoyably ludicrous, but my high-five goes to Julia Stiles as the art collector with violent tendencies for never, ever removing her insanely high heels, even on the cobblestones of Venice and Saint-Tropez.

Next year will be a blooming marvel

Generally I find bulb-planting unbelievably dull. This year, though, the idea that tulips, paperwhites, hyacinths and daffs will emerge in spring, joyfully scented and colourful and wonderfully unaffected by Covid, has changed my attitude and I’m potting away like crazy.

Proof that our true love is… a pet dog

For many young people, lockdown means having to decide where your loyalties lie.

Do you live with your flatmates, your boyfriend or girlfriend – or your parents and the family dog?

And guess which is coming out top among those I know?

No surprises – home is where the dog is.

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