How lockdown broke the Billy B

Do you remember the Billy B in 2019? Let’s cast our minds back for a moment. It’s 11:37 on a Wednesday morning and you’re only mildly hungover (success!). Deciding to take this opportunity to dig yourself out of a deepening pit of uncompleted essays, you chuck a comically oversized mug, ample snacks and headphones into a backpack and head for the science site. Strolling in and up the stairs, surrounded by the reassuring hum of collective focus, you spot a seat, scramble towards it and frantically scatter the contents of your bag to mark your territory. A little corner carved out; a place to spend your day. Of course, each hour is punctuated with expeditions to the hot water tap and intentionally drawn out chats with familiar faces – so many means of procrastination, a true luxury. It’s 12:05 and downstairs the café is jam packed with the unclipping of tupperware, the smell of melted cheese, the chatter. Back then, under a guise of productivity, the library was fundamentally a social occasion. But then again, so was life.


Fast forward to 2020 and what was mundane the previous year appears glorious. Any character the café had was wiped out by Covid. Come September it lay shiny and empty, decorated with huge kitchen towels and anti-bac spray (aesthetic). Yet all was not lost last term. Pull off the right balance of sneaky and charming and you could usually persuade the provision of some hot water for your tea. And while booking time slots was a royal faff, it focused the mind and channelled the energies. Slam down three black coffees early morning, powerwalk to library, bathe in sanitizer on arrival and then you’ve got four and a half hours to bang out an essay – bam! Back in times for a six o’clock glass of wine, job done.


But now, now my dear reader (read this in the voice of Julie Andrews) it’s simply gone too far. The plot has been well and truly lost. Returning this term to ‘’ (a.k.a the bane of my existence), I found Billy’s capacity had once again been reduced, though demand has far from dwindled. You fancy booking a slot today, you say? Forget it. If you wake up at some ungodly hour tomorrow, and are lucky, you may just secure a slot for five days’ time. Outrageous. Oh, and at weekends it’s closed. I’m sorry, come again? What is that about?? Everyone knows that Durham students operate on a five-day weekend, two-day working week situation (sorry STEM subjects but alas, it’s true for the rest of us).


If you do decide to rock up in six-days’ time, good luck. Attempting to step foot in that building is like trying to enter a high security volt, and not on a good day. “Where’s your booking ID, your student ID, your seat number, your seat number again please?”. By now a small, passive aggressive and socially distanced queue is building up behind you (rude). Once you do make it inside, make sure you have constant and secure knowledge of which way clockwise is and walk in that direction only, at all times. Any respite from your mask requires a snack or hot beverage, and this is not good for surround sound. Amidst a sea of slurping and crunching it’s easy to get distracted judging other people’s snacks. Last week I opted for sensible sort-of-silent grapes only for my ears to be ambushed by the persistent delving of a hungry hand into a crackling bag of Tyrell’s Salt and Vinegar crisps – frankly scandalous behaviour! And about the only time in the last year I have felt insufficiently distanced from others.


So, to sum up, if you’re thinking of venturing to the Billy B this term, I have one piece of advice – Don’t. What was once a refreshing change of scene is now, quite frankly, an ordeal. Unenjoyable, uneventful and unproductive. I would strongly suggest you steer well clear and stay at home (you’re welcome Boris) – then maybe one day I’ll have a chance of getting a slot!

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