Up Front by Emma Hart

78

So Farewell Then, UCSA

When you move away from a place that's meant a lot to you, it stays unchanged in your head. You don't see the flow of life change it. Particularly for people who've left Christchurch, a memory of a building can be more permanent, more immutable, than the building itself. 

For those of us who've seen the University of Canterbury Student Union building standing empty and derelict, fencing leaning ineffectually on it the way so many of us have over the years, the news of its impending demolition was unsurprising. Like so much here, we only wonder why it's taken so long. When the building is still pristine in your memory, it's rather more of a shock. 

All right, 'pristine' is completely the wrong word. Intact. Concretey. Orange. Drear and blocky and completely impractical. Okay, I'm not a big fan of Brutalism. The easy-hose-down decor was at least understandable, but the rabbit-warren of little hallways and windowless (or far too windowed) rooms? Those orange couches with the sloping backs? I was there in the 90s. Why was everything so relentlessly 70s? 

Warren and Mahoney themselves describe the building as "a skeletal encrustation", and it's hard to argue. "The building’s predominant materials of robust fairface concrete, concrete block and timber have survived vigorous student use." 

To be fair, I'm sure there were thousands of UC students who only set foot in the Student Association building to have their ID photos taken. My social group lived there. We had, long before I arrived, somehow commandeered some of the best real estate in the building: the bit of the Lower Common Room that overhung the amphitheatre. It would have been beautifully sunny if not for those massive trees which also ensured the amphitheatre was always damp except in the height of summer, when no-one was there. It was easy slouching distance to toilets, the Upper Cafe and its lethal filter coffee, and a bar. Everyone had the number of the phone just outside. 

So for those of us for whom that building was home, or at least a second lounge, we should take a tip from our far-flung bretheren and take a moment to mourn the passing of that great concrete shithole. Those were the days of our lives, vomited all over its constantly slightly tacky carpet.

 

It's the tiny little things I remember. The time someone stuck a gherkin from a McDonalds cheeseburger onto the window, and we left it there to see what would happen. And left it, and left it... The spot in the stairwell where someone had tried to put their fist (I hope) through a pane of safety glass. The sea of bags outside Bentley's when they made us leave them in case we were smuggling in even cheaper booze. The eponymous cat himself, who once followed me and a Lovely Young Man through campus in the middle of the night when we were sneaking off for a quick shag because I still had the key to the English Department. The migration to the Upper Common Room on a Friday for Happy Hour, on account of cocktails and the LCR filling up with Normals. 

So many games of 500, played on those orange couches around those low coffee tables. Endless games of Scum that people would drift in and out of as they had lectures. Talking Shit and Playing Cards: those were our things. Those walls heard so much utter bollocks. 

KAOS had a relationship of beligerant affection with the cafe ladies. They would watch us dump a spoon of instant in a coffee cup and top it up with filter coffee without a flicker. There was only a slight hesitation before they gave us fifteen cups of cafe coffee with which to carry out a public execution. The crumbed fish was perfectly edible, the frozen yoghurt was lovely, and more than one of my friends ate at the cafes so much they got scurvy. 

Falling in the river. Well, "falling" in the river. Drying off on the sunny bit of concrete in the amphitheatre. Always being mildly curious about the Go club because their noticeboard was right next to ours. Never realising how English a phrase "common room" was. 

If you ever went there late at night, or in the holidays, the emptiness of the building was weird and wrong. It's been empty and silent for years now. I've found, oddly, that in all my photos of my time at uni, I have none of the UCSA building itself. If you do, please share them, and your stories too. Time to drag those plastic jugs back out of our cupboards, pour one of those tiny glasses, and maybe sing one last chorus of "Black Betty". Bam-ba-lam indeed.

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