‘Does it all matter so much if students fornicate and take drugs?’. It’s a question that issue 43 of the original Carolynne (only 6d for students!) felt was worth asking. It was part of the then-infamous investigation into what Lancaster’s founding students saw as a ‘community in decline!’.
The first students argued that the University was quickly filling up with all manner of unsavoury scamps, scoundrels and rapscallions who were intent on turning the University into a promiscuous, narcotics-fuelled ‘LSE of the North’ that cared little about academic standards and cared even less about ‘immorality and the breaking of legal, social and moral codes’. You can see why they were annoyed. You can see why the editors were concerned. There were, after all, ‘at least three individuals’ were selling drugs ‘not for philanthropic reasons, but for’ – heavens above! – ‘mercenary gain and hefty profit!’.
This honourable dedication to a life free of the twin demons of a quick fix and a quick fuck was all well and good, but Carolynne’s prudish and haughty tone struck me as a little odd. Wasn’t this the late sixties? Wasn’t this the era of free love and freer LSD? Wasn’t this the era of Philip Larkin having sex with his Beatles LP? The fact that Carolynne was staffed by moderate yet rather right-leaning staff may well explain its stance on these issues. Today’s Carolynne is a bit less likely to burst into Daily Express style ‘crusade mode’ in response to some perceived moral failings. We’re a little bit more enlightened. It’s totally fine with the Carolynne of 2013 if you want to ingest questionable substances and get involved in a casual eight-some.
But, attitudes of the student media aside, has student lifestyle really changed that much between then and now? Well, the earliest students lived in Morecambe, and they drank in bars instead of clubs. The fundamentals, though, have remained remarkably similar. Students liked to drink, have sex and occasionally dabble in drugs, and often they indulged in these recreational activities to such an extent that it would interfere with matters academic. There was a small and very active group of politically motivated students, and they would constantly mourn the great, imagined era of student participation where campus was swathed in red flags and every political meeting reached quoracy. The first students to move on to campus even complained about the décor of the bars, the fact that campus was always too cold and rainy, and about the unparalleled beauty of Bowland Tower. Sound familiar?
The fine art of the moan is another stream of continuity – if anything holds Lancaster students together over time, it’s their truly unparalleled ability to kick up a fuss about things. And about the same stuff, no less. The 1969 Graduation Ball came in for a lot of stick – ‘The tickets were then 2 gns. each, yet the food and ‘top group’ (the Carribean Steel band, no less!) had to struggle to earn the title mediocre’. In complaining about the price of Grad Ball tickets and the fact that it’s in Blackpool, we truly are continuing a long and noble tradition. Notably, SCAN’s resident complainer-in-chief, the enigmatic Ronnie Rowlands, seems to have modelled himself closely on Carolynne’s resident complainer-in-chief, the enigmatic Jacobin. Jacobin promised his readers ‘cunning, wit, and secret news, appearing when Jacobin choose!’, and would then provide them with a series of biting vignettes that took a samurai sword to the faces of power, just like our own Mr. Rowlands. It’s quite nice, really, in a hippy things-might-change-but-really-we’re-all-the-same, holding hands through history sort of way.
Yet the lack of change also has a somewhat depressing edge, with things that you really hoped would have changed remaining firmly entrenched in contemporary student culture. The sort of subtle but constant misogyny peddled in old-Carolynne’s pages (its ‘girls of the year’ features, its constant diminishing and stereotyping of women) has yet to really disappear – instead, it’s simply been transmutated into the world of the ‘banterific cuntLAD’. And depressingly, the constant complaining suggests that Lancaster students have constantly been at the wrong end of some malevolent party’s (the University? The old SRC? LUSU? Who knows!) big beating stick. If we’re complaining so much, why is so little changing? Why, after almost 50 years, are we still paying over the odds to watch shitty bands play at Grad Ball? Why aren’t the bars the absolute perfect beacons of student community that they probably should be by now? And why the hell is it still raining?!
We may well remain eternally unsatisfied. And these unresolvable problems, combined with the seemingly universal desire to get drunk and have sex, that mean if you took some current students on a time travel ERASMUS scheme back to the sixties, they’d probably get on pretty well. Lancaster’s just as miserable, and just as great, as it’s always been.