Features / Bristol

My life as a student agony uncle

By james higgins, Thursday Aug 11, 2016

While a student at Bristol University, I was Epigram’s agony uncle. Though I’ve graduated, not much has changed; I still live in Bristol, and the too-fun-to-forget column is now re-born as a blog.

Bristol24/7 published my final column this June in their student section, and (because I’m a ‘deep thinker’), it got me thinking about why I started the column two years ago. 

The simple answer is: I wanted to, and I sort-of knew the editor. I pitched with coffee and smiles, and before long had a small list of problems we’d been able to drum up from the people sitting next to us at the café.

I think back and wonder what qualified me to be an agony uncle. Was I like Psychic Sally or Gillian McKeith; did I have any certified ability beyond bluff?

My general stance on issues is to confront it early, and that the solution is usually very simple. If the solution sounds hard, that’s a good moral litmus test. Morals are hard – ask a monk.

I’ve never been a fan of new age solutions – you might be able to bend your way to a happier hip, but I don’t believe you can resolve irritations in the same way. Maybe I was doing it wrong, but the only way yoga helped me in that arena was that the ‘sitting someone down’ part required fewer groans. 

As a fledgling column, our problems were the sort one would expect from a student paper. “Help, parts of my boyfriend smell like warm mayonnaise”, and “I live with six girls, and right now my predicted homicide rate is six”.

As the column ‘matured’, and we answered problems on the student radio, so we started to receive heavier problems. One, particularly juicy problem, was from a girl who, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call Sarah.

Sarah had a new friend called Laura. Some months previous to Sarah’s blossoming friendship with Laura, Sarah had ‘made friends’ with a boy. That boy, it turned out was, and remained, Laura’s boyfriend.

How should Sarah play this? I’ll admit, I’ve never had a problem like that. Up until that point, my main struggle in life was smuggling chocolate into work under the eyes of minestrone-y Margot who sat opposite, who enjoyed referring to me as a “Sugar Slut”.

My new favourite problem is with Tinder Social. What do you do when you don’t want to actually go for a night out with the full set on offer, you just want a date with one of the friends? Do you go with the group and try to ease the target away like a scab in hot water? Do you match the group then come clean? Nightmare. 

A particularly easy problem I remember receiving was from a boy who had turned down a girl for a date. His friend had comforted said girl and in the process of providing her a shoulder, had provided her with a boyfriend.

Well now, I’ve always wondered what drives boys to subconsciously submit the pack to the pursuit of one girl: once one boy decides he likes someone, suddenly all his friends do as well.

I went to town on this boy, and gave him what lots of boys I’ve liked needed to hear. I know, how cliché. I sound like those damaged detectives on TV cop shows that let personal circumstances cloud the investigation. All I need now is a dog, a drinking problem, and a flappy coat.

I wonder if Oprah ever had this problem: getting personally involved with her interviewees, I mean – not drink. I’m pretty sure Jeremy Kyle has to be tanked up to be so vile, I’ve met him and I can assure you he’s actually a doll. 

Everyone knows the torture of sitting your boss down for an appraisal and attempting to illustrate your purpose with words such as ‘dynamic’, ‘motivated’, and ‘yes’.

If I had to rate my performance as an agony columnist, honestly, truthfully, on a scale from Mrs Mills solves all your problems to Claire Rayner, I’d slot myself under Marj Proops, because I think sitting under a famous Proop sounds funny. Some of my columns are available on the Epigram website, do familiarise yourself. 


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