In our final year as undergraduates at the University, Daniel Ravenscroft - known to his numerous friends as Rave - and I had decided to share a two-bedroomed student flat converted from the upper floor of a terraced house in a less salubrious part of south Manchester. In late summer, the place had seemed reasonable enough, but by the end of November it had become distinctly cold and damp. Also, it was still fairly squalid, despite our efforts to clean the place up and our half-hearted attempts to splash some fresh paint in psychedelically bright (and consequently extremely cheap) hues on the walls.
We were attempting to relax in the little area - really an annexe to the kitchen - that served us as a sitting room. This space was barely large enough for a couple of battered armchairs with the stuffing leaking out and a few bookshelves flanking the chimney breast, the chimney itself now blocked off with badly-painted hardboard. Instead of the smog-creating coal fire, the room was fitfully warmed by the heat from the ancient electric cooker in the kitchen area, augmented by an electric fan heater I had brought with me from my parents’ home, which was even older. Even now, I have distinct memories of sitting behind that particular item as a pre-school infant, legs straddling the squared-off fan housing, making engine noises and pretending to fly an aeroplane in emulation of my Air Force pilot father.
"You know, it's perfectly warm enough in here given a thick pullover," Rave said, squinting at me and plucking at the afore-mentioned garment.
"And a jacket," I added, indicating the item I was wearing, not-so-subtly patterned in black-and-white dogtooth check.
Rave looked at me for a long moment.
"We've got to get out of this place," he said seriously.
Rave was a stockily-built young man of slightly less than average height, with unkempt black hair and bushy eyebrows which tended to meet in the middle when he frowned, which was often. These days, he affected a stubble beard with, it has to be said, only a limited amount of success. He was one of these earnest and extremely intelligent young men given to philosophical ramblings on any subject which caught his attention, which fitted in well enough with the Maths degree he was in the final year of.
I was a student in the building next door - the Physics Department - and we were both part of the same loose group of friends. The group were, generally, very good students in their final year of undergraduate studies, all male, and sharing a degree of shyness and general social ineptitude which made us cling to each others’ company. We had taken to sitting around in the bar or the cafeteria area of the Student Union and nattering slightly aimlessly, rather than engaging in our lab exercises or tutorial preparations.
Rave was famous - at least, in our little circle - for having invented a verbal game styled, perhaps, after the whimsical non-game Mornington Crescent from the famous BBC radio show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue (The Antidote to Panel Games). The (purported) objective of the game, named simply "Manchester Student", was to gather the maximum number of points on four orthogonal scales: Exam Marks, Street Credibility Points, Cosmic Awareness Level and Notches on the Bedpost. The latter, being a rather nerdy allusion to - at the time - rather unlikely event of actual sexual intercourse, is supposed to be additive only; after all, once carved, notches cannot be easily taken away.
The game featured moves like: "Stand up in a packed lecture theatre, shout 'I'm never coming to one of these boring lectures again' and storm out, slamming the door behind you" (scoring minus two Exam Marks, but plus three Street Credibility Points), or: "Attend the Freshers Disco at a student Hall of Residence" (minus two Cosmic Awareness Levels but plus one Notch On The Bedpost). The moves were never actually made in reality, just spoken aloud in a parody of chess moves: “pawn to king’s bishop four.”
Of course, the real objective, as in Mornington Crescent, was not to score points, but to amuse those of your fellows who were in on the joke and, perhaps more importantly, to bemuse and confuse those who were left out.
For no particularly good reason other than we had to do something about final year accommodations, Rave and I had elected to share the flat we presently occupied, which we had viewed in the bright sunshine of a summer morning. Then, it had not seemed so bad; now, approaching a damp Mancunian winter, its true properties - drafty rooms, mouldy woodwork and peeling wallpaper - were all too apparent.