Monday, August 8, 2011


People don't really get old; they just get better at disguising their youth. Last week, staying with fellow psychology students in Bath, there was no difference between generations. Everybody was equally capable of collapsing onto pavements in a heap in the early hours. Young and old alike acquired and messed up relationships in equal measure. I wasn't drinking, but there's something infectious about group behaviour, lunacy and music that carries you along. There was hard work in amongst the parties. We were all conducting cognitive experiments. Some were investigating aspects of memory. My favourite was a study investigating how we respond to what we hear. They played you various sounds - a baby crying, the sound of thunder or of breaking glass - and you let it remind you of a memory. Apparently, the 'people' noises - the sound of a gasp, or a scream - evoke much stronger memories than 'object' noises. That makes sense.

Being among new people is a chance to behave more freely. Faced with a competition in the bar, my competitive streak got the better of me. You had to pick up an empty cornflakes packet with your mouth, without hands or knees touching the ground. If you succeeded, they tore a bit off the packet, so it became harder and harder to reach down. Not to be defeated, I found myself 'in' to the end, legs apart and tongue brushing the floor to pick up the last remaining flat piece of card from the cereal packet. My bum muscles took all week to recover, but it was worth it: the prize was chocolate, which I could then use to keep subjects smiling in my experiment room through the week.

It had been so long since I'd 'let my hair down' in a club. But it was glorious and mad. Clubs at busy times are similar to evangelical religious meetings… shouting hard-to-understand noises with hands in the air… later, acting the 'mother hen', I loved making sure everyone was back safe by a very sensible 3am!!

Mixed in with the madness was some seriously interesting psychology. It was mind-boggling to deliver presentations and keep working with so little sleep, but everyone seemed to handle their exhaustion. And all through the week, a supply of cappucinos to stop everyone falling asleep over all the statistics. I will never forget everyone's fun, loving, listening and sharing attitude. I drove back up the A303 with a happy glow, and some special new friends to care about and compare notes with.