I have been feeling like a little bit of a broken record recently. In so many conversations – whether casual library catch-ups or late-night, Dervish-fuelled heart-to-hearts – I have brought up the same tired old saying in reference to whatever was being discussed. Inevitably, the conversation would come to the part where I role my eyes, toss my head up and recite the oft-heard, ‘classic St. Andrews’, ‘only in St. Andrews’, or some similar deprecating comment. And, invariably, there would be some sort of agreement, and a brief acknowledgement of this strange quality our dear town possesses.
The quality I’m referring to is, of course, whatever unknown force decides which people and situations are thrown together at what time. This force can be recognised in the old classic, bumping into your one night stand the next afternoon in the Tesco meal-deal section, or running into the person you were just discussing at that moment with your friend. That one person that you don’t want to see, you do; for better or worse. The one situation that you and your friends were steeling yourself for, yet convinced yourself it would be too much of a coincidence – of course it happens. It’s tricky, hard to predict – you could have a week of uninterrupted coincidences, and the next you are lured back into a sense of normality. Of course, this is shattered the next day, in a mind-bogglingly coincidental moment your friends rush to dissect afterwards.
As possible as it is that our town is in the grips of some mischievous social-situational hobgoblin, the more likely reason cannot be avoided: it’s just damn small. University life, with all its intricacies: friendships, losses, trysts and betrayals play out centre-stage (for the most part) on three streets. In enrolling, we have unknowingly cast ourselves in the perfect setting for a situational comedy and are watching the show play on in real time. For the time being we have been denied anonymity, and the protective padding it grants us.
This can be hard. Friends of mine have found that this particular aspect of town life is proving detrimental. One of them – a first-year– is considering transferring, explaining that it was just too much knowing that, for them, there wasn’t a place to go on campus where they wouldn’t see people they knew. I understand what they mean. I felt similar feelings at this point last year. However, as the year progressed, the more heart-warming benefits of intimate community began to show themselves. I realised that when life threw its curveballs, my support system was built in to my town. Going to the Union on a Friday, I came to understand that there would be guaranteed friendly faces in the crowd. This applied to the library, cafes, walks through town. I am able to run by Tesco’s and buy chocolates to leave on the doorstep of a sad friend. Equally, a melancholy day of mine can be brightened by the chance encounter of someone who wants to listen.
When I find myself frustrated at the insular nature of my town, I remember one of the reasons I came to St Andrews in the first place, forgoing cities that I knew and loved. Cities, with the anonymity they provide, with the thrill of constantly new people surging past you on the street, they will always be there. They are waiting for us now, as we live out our remaining years here. What won’t always be here, is the opportunity to grow surrounded by people you know. For all our talk of the bubble, it will eventually be popped. Soon we’ll disperse into a world that won’t necessarily allow us to so easily build a shared understanding, a shared experience with those we pass on the street every day. I’m reminding myself to take advantage of this, to gain what amusement from the coincidences I can, and to enjoy the play as it unfolds.