Freshers look to laptops for life lessons
Rifling through a welcome pack on my first night at university, I found a bizarre array of items that students in the years above had deemed essential for the week ahead. At the top lay two student-union-branded condoms, guaranteed to take the fizz out of any freshperson’s fling. Then there was a tiny packet of Golden Wonder crisps, a packet of Love Hearts and leaflets imploring me to join implausible societies from bell ringing to historical re-enactment. At the bottom, apparently as an afterthought, there was a solitary washing-up sponge.
The sponge was the sole concession to practicality. Yet, no matter how great our competence on the subject of Plato or Pythagoras, when it came to everyday life we were clueless. My cohort divided between the intrepid, whose series of disastrous experiments left our kitchen covered in scorch marks, and the less adventurous, who would make embarrassing calls to mum, pleading for the secret of cooking pasta.
As a new intake of students settles in to university, they are beginning to grapple with the same questions – but will find the answers much more readily. Rather than rummaging through self-help books or resorting to trial and error, today’s teenagers are finding a wealth of practical advice on the video-sharing website YouTube.
“We used YouTube for everything,” explains Lindsey Noakes, who has recently finished a geography degree at Bristol. “It was our first port of call. We had formal dinners twice a term where we wore black tie. All of the boys turned up with their dinner jackets but no
one had any idea how to tie a bow tie. We all crammed into one person’s room in our halls with the girls trying to tie the boys’ bow ties. We had one person’s laptop playing the video [bit.ly/10ujoG] over and over again for an hour to make sure we got it right.”
Some of the tuition available is alarmingly basic, from a foolproof 2½-minute guide to using a tin opener (bit.ly/96MUIY) to deadpan instructions for tying your shoelaces (bit.ly/njySX1). But other videos are far more advanced.
“Student friends of mine proudly posted on Facebook that after ages without an oven – and radio silence from their landlord – they’d diagnosed the problem, ordered a cheap part online and fixed it, all with the help of YouTube,” says Lucy Tobin, author of A Guide to Uni Life. She says students’ attitudes have changed in the five years since she graduated from Oxford in 2008.
“I was utterly clueless when I went off to university,” she says. “My dad, a chartered surveyor, was constantly getting calls: where’s the fuse box? How come we’ve got no hot water? How do you bleed a radiator? Mymum was bombarded with questions about how she’d actually made all those meals that had magically appeared on the kitchen table over the past 18 years. Now students like to work out how to do things themselves.”
Students’ YouTube instruction begins with cleaning. There is a six-minute step-by-step guide to the washing-up (bit.ly/Pss1f), covering “donning Marigold gloves” and the correct order of washing. Grateful viewers have labelled the tutor, Eric, a “washingup king” in the comments below. For students keen to avoid the cliché of a mounting pile of laundry waiting for parents to collect at the end of term, there is a video explaining how to use a washing machine (bit.ly/1b65Xns). If stains stubbornly refuse to budge, a comprehensive guide gives a tutorial on getting wax out of clothes (bit.ly/15l38Hf).
The tongue-in-cheek “ironing for men” video (bit.ly/4PiYqd) instructs viewers that the essentials for the task include an iron, ironing board, a bottle of gin and cigarettes. “First, you need to make sure the shirt has been washed,” the host helpfully informs us. “The best way is to take a sniff under the arm.” For more-practical tuition, TM Lewin has produced a guide to ironing a shirt “properly” in three minutes (bit.ly/14P5M6D).
There are also several remedies for ironing mishaps. “My boyfriend managed to burn his very cheap suit trousers on to the iron and couldn’t get the black gunk off,” says Noakes. “So I looked up how to do it. The best way is to heat up the iron, get a piece of paper and put sea salt on it. You iron the salt and it rubs off the gunk but doesn’t scratch the iron.”
Freshers often gain a temporary reprieve from DIY by living in halls, where college handymen act as surrogate parents, for their first year, but once they move out they soon discover a range of online masterclasses. In one, an intimidating Irishwoman explains how to put up a curtain pole (bit.ly/VyP4Dz), and in another, more ambitious students are taken through lining their curtains (bit.ly/uGY2eH).
There are also videos to be found that tackle putting up a shelf (bit. ly/15kTIAS), changing a
light bulb (bit.ly/1fsRdhE) and fixing a bicycle puncture (bit.ly/19wcBMQ). For students on a really tight budget, there is even advice on how to cut your own hair (bit.ly/oo3l1x).
The internet has also made student cookbooks redundant, and teenagers no longer rely on a few recipes handed down from home. “My mum is a very good cook but she is not very good at explaining things,” says Noakes. “She just says, ‘Chuck in a handful of that, stir it a bit and it will be fine.’ I needed something a little bit more step-by-step.”
Noakes learnt how to make eggfried rice (bit.ly/16l8p7U); but there is also unjudgmental tuition on boiling an egg (bit.ly/1fsTnOs). Even Delia Smith has embraced this method as “the best way to teach people to cook”, abandoning television shows in favour of the internet. The Delia Online Cookery School (deliaonline.com) features dozens of videos covering everything from preparing garlic to roasting beef.
And while one housemate props open a laptop next to the stove, another can mix the drinks. Standing in front of a well-stocked bar, mixologist Allen Katz explains how to make the perfect martini (bit.ly/q8a8N), getting the quantities of gin and dry vermouth right for a wonderful “crisp finish”. There are also useful videos for pina colada (bit. ly/1fadxiG) and mojitos (bit. ly/v07gM).
The next morning, teenagers do not even have to get out of bed to look up the “scientific” hangover cure (bit.ly/MraZ0r), which recommends eggs, bananas and fruit juice for breakfast as well as water and aspirin before bed. Once they can stomach moving around, there are handy tips for getting red wine out of a carpet (bit.ly/15l3RNX).
With such practical advice online, parents may wonder if their children will ever call them again. Tobin, however, says they need not worry. “Students like to self-promote and appear to flourish in every aspect of life after quietly watching ‘how-tos’ on YouTube,” she says, “but when they get dumped or fail a module, YouTube won’t get in the car and drive for hours just to give
them a hug.”
Essential tutorials: find ‘how-tos’ on everything from tying a bow tie, top, to mastering the art of washing up, above, on video-sharing website YouTube