A walk in the dark

… tales from Reading Uni, part one…

As those of you who have spent any time on my website (www.rob-gregory.com) will doubtless already know, I spent some time back in the early nineties at Reading University, where I studied Biological Sciences. Such was my level of devotion to the subject that I was often to be found in the Student Union bar, conducting elaborate experiments on the effects of alcohol on the major bodily organs, using myself as a guinea pig (no animal testing here, I can assure you)! And because I was trying my hardest to be a respectable and professional biologist, these experiments had to be performed both concurrently and consecutively, in other words at the same time and one after another. This might sound impossible on the face of it, but can, in fact, be achieved by cleverly mixing your drinks and lining up several rounds in one go.

Anyway, one evening in the bar, myself and a small group of friends were sharing the heavy workload of diligent scientific enquiry, by each quaffing as many pints of larger, bitter and anything else vaguely liquid that came our way as we could. At the end of the evening, the bell for last orders rang out and the bouncers dutifully waded in, helping everyone present make their way into the night, predominantly by means of snatching away any half-empty glasses and shoving us out into the cold. Needless to say, with more than a few halves of ale inside us, we were in good spirits and began to head back towards our Hall of Residence, laughing, singing and joking as we went.

I don’t know who suggested it, but at some point on the journey back, a wager was proposed that I couldn’t walk home with my eyes closed. Always one to rise to a friendly challenge, I accepted the bet, confident that I could indeed navigate successfully without the aid of vision. How wrong I was!

Not many people walk around with their eyes closed, no matter what we might think about our politicians and others in positions of power. Even fewer try to do it at night, when visual acuity is even more heavily limited. So, I may have actually found myself in a rare minority of one, had I realised it at the time when I tried to walk home both sightless and ‘half-cut’ as we say in the UK.

Needless to say, my friends found it highly amusing to watch me wobble off down the path from the Student Union, narrowly avoiding the myriad of trees and bicycles that now seemed to litter my route. It was only when I stumbled and bounced off a thorn bush that they came to my aid, still giggling in the way that only drunken students can. Still, undeterred and with the promise of several more beers as my reward, I set off again, only this time I ended up wandering unsteadily down the main driveway of the University campus, eyes still firmly clamped shut. No problem, I thought, I’ve walked down this road a dozen or more times and nothing ever comes down here at this time of night.

Suddenly, there was a frightened scream from one of my friends, the sound of a car horn, an angry shout and an unexpected gust of air, as a car sped past. Thankfully, in my unsteady and somewhat inebriated state, I fell into the gutter, rather than the road and picked myself up to see two red tail-lights disappearing into the night.

You might be pleased to know that I walked the rest of the way back to the Hall of Residence that night with my eyes wide open and heart thumping with fright, all thoughts of my alcoholic reward completely forgotten. Since then I have grown older and I hope, a little wiser, and have never repeated that particular feat again. Periodically, however, I do find myself reflecting on the incident and how, but for the fact that everyone leans to one side or the other when they walk with their eyes closed (try it if you don’t believe me), I could so very easily have ended up under the wheels of that car, rather than being here today to tell you about it.

A sobering thought indeed…