Things that I think and do
One of the most common perceptions of students, aside from the latent alcoholism and inability to get out of bed before mid-afternoon, involves a heavy reliance on all-nighters to get work done before a deadline. For many the concept of student is created in part by the image of a red-eyed, scruffy youth frantically trying to get words onto a page in the wee hours of the morning.
Well, last night I did my part to perpetuate this concept by taking part in one such ‘all-nighter’. Much like Lionel Richie, I was in the computer cluster on campus all night long – although I doubt that’s actually what Lionel was on about.
I will point out at this stage that it was in fact my first ever all-nighter, and that in truth I didn’t really need to do it. In fact, the idea of needing to pull an all-nighter is frankly alien to me.
Many of my friends do a music degree which, it seems, involves at least one all-nighter the day before each hand-in throughout the year. I’ve asked a number of times why they do it, and why they don’t just do the work much further in advance, but they now get extremely annoyed if I ask that and can’t provide an answer anyway, so I’ve given up.
I don’t ask in a judgemental way, of course. I just simply do not understand why it becomes an option at all for many people. But that’s by the by, I’m sure students have many reasons for doing them and none of those reasons are really any of my concern.
Last night was actually a bit of a spontaneous decision on my part – my housemate said he was going to do one, for no particular reason other than it was a convenient night to do so, and I thought I’d give it a go. My decision to do it was based on the fact that a) I had some work I needed to do anyway, b) I’d never done an all-nighter before and I thought it was something I should experience before I leave university and c) I’d once before rashly said I’d keep him company on his next all-nighter.
Apparently, the protocol for this sort of event is to start off by going home from the pub at about 10pm to do our ‘morning routine’, consisting essentially of having a shower and choosing some comfortable clothes. After buying a few select snacks (I went for smoothie, HobNobs and iced coffee) we got to the library at about 11pm.
The main thing I discovered on this all-nighter is that the night is really quite long. In the end we were there from 11pm until 8am, which is actually longer than I spend at university most days. Another thing I found is that it’s very bizarre to be working when your body is telling you that you should be asleep. It’s a complete novelty – your brain isn’t used to it and so the experience of essay writing and reading, quite mundane usually, becomes several times more interesting (for the first couple of hours at any rate).
For the most part, we were working productively. Any time we started to flag, the HobNobs and coffee came out and we powered on through. Only at perhaps 3am did things start getting a bit surreal.
This is the time of night when your body thinks, “OK, you really should be sleeping now”. Between 3am and maybe 5:30am is a dark, dark place on the all-nighter – it’s after the latest time you’d usually be asleep but before a time when it’s plausible to start the day. Things all got a bit weird and trippy for us at this point.
At 3am I decided that the best policy would be to have Bryan Adams, Shaggy and other obscure noughties hits as my work soundtrack, while my housemate was giggling away silently to a surreal comedy on iPlayer. A while later he looked over to see me having resorted to designing custom T-shirts on the interweb, featuring a logo of the word ‘Fresh’ spelled in funky and exciting phonetic ways (if you’re interested, “Phresh”, “Phresch” and also “Phreš” made an appearance).
As it approached 5am we Skyped each other over a distance of perhaps half a metre. We then tried to get another of our housemates, who was very much asleep at home, involved by adding him to a group call, with very limited success (he didn’t answer).
This was all interspersed with my reading about Alsace-Lorraine and post-war Germany, a topic which became even less enthralling when I discovered Sinead O’Connor on YouTube and watched “Nothing Compares 2 U” four times on repeat.
At 7am we decided to have breakfast and, elated by the fact that we’d managed to spend eight hours with no sleep and enduring dubious musical choices, I listened to Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” while Patrick opted for “Cwm Rhondda” as a final power ballad/Welsh anthem combo.
I thought at this point the worst was over. Having not slept for almost twenty-four hours, surely I could last three more before heading home. But no. After breakfast, I hit the wall. And it was a very solid wall. Breeze blocks and granite-studded kind of wall. This setback marked the end of my first ever all-nighter.
I’m writing this now at about 3pm on a Friday, having had less than two hours of sleep since 8am on Thursday morning. Like having jetlag, I mustn’t go to bed until this evening to avoid buggering up my body clock (which is why I’m boring you with tales of my first all-nighter – it’s keeping me awake).
So, my verdict: I have decided that I do not want to be doing another one of those any time soon. As a concept, it’s pretty sound – by doing work at night, I can legitimately sit at home all day and not feel guilty, and it breaks the monotonous routine of getting up at 8am to go and work in the daytime (that’s so last year). And it was an experience – I can now say, at least, that I’ve done an unnecessary and whimsical all-nighter.
I’m just so bloody tired and grumpy.