Any First Years wishing to subscribe to the C-card scheme – which allows you to collect free condoms from the Cripp’s Health Clinic – please wait behind after dinner and speak to the nurse at seven.
A look goes up and down the long table in the middle of the dining hall. Wide eyes along two rows of eighteen-year-old boys. Puerile grins flick back and forth. I raise my eyebrows in surprise. Daniel C stifles a giggle.
Amused murmurs across the hall begin to mingle with the metallic scraping of cutlery as the diners finish their lukewarm Thai green curry. The subject is breached at the middle table. Ben C points out that there’s nothing to lose in subscribing. We all agree with a collective shrug, trying to betray no hint of humour.
Of course, the principal reason for collecting a C-card is hardly sexual. If anything, the sex associated with this free pass to off-brand prophylactics is incidental. Those awkward moments in the side-room of the Health Clinic – fumbling for the card whilst a bored nurse waits with a box of condoms – are all in the future. At this moment in the dining hall all that matters is whether we can restrain our immaturity. We are eighteen. We still laugh at the word ‘condom’. Controlling ourselves now is vital.
Seven o’clock approaches. The nurses set up their desk on the far side of the hall. Nods of agreement roll along the table. One by one we clumsily extricate ourselves from the narrow benches and slide our trays onto the trolleys. Then, mentally steeling ourselves, we edge over to the small crowd gathering around the subscription desk.
Two nurses are unpacking boxes of garish green and purple cards. Once the crowd has swelled to about thirty students, the senior nurse stands and asks for our attention. The group falls silent. Every sign that might suggest a hint of teenaged mirth – every smile, giggle, awkward shuffling – is immediately suppressed.
Thank you for all staying behind, the nurse begins, it’s nice to see so many freshers interested in subscribing to the C-card scheme.
This isn’t too bad, I tell myself. It’s not really that funny, just a health professional doing her job. Must be the same every year. I glance from left to right. James B is quietly paying attention. Henry M seems to be controlling himself, somehow. Rob S looks on wistfully, stroking his beard. This should be fine.
She continues: It’s free to subscribe (fine, finance isn’t amusing) as the scheme is funded by the NHS (good, the National Health Service isn’t funny either). Now, I’ll explain a little about what the card entitles you to…
Ah, the moment I’ve been dreading. I raise my hand to cover my mouth in anticipation of a smile. I look down at my feet.
The C-card entitles you to collect free condoms from the Cripp’s Health Centre. (I take a sharp breath and hold back the giggle, hoping no one else heard. I become aware of Patrick E looking in my direction, smirking already.) You are allowed to collect twelve per week. (Twelve? Who do they think I am? The smile grows and I have to use my entire palm to cover my mouth.) There are a range of flavours available. (What? Flavours? This is impossible. I begin to snigger. My body convulses as I desperately try to hold back laughter whilst straining to keep a straight face. Henry M hears me and adopts the same pose – staring at the floor, hand covering his mouth. James B follows. Daniel C falls next. I think I might be crying.) In addition to the condoms (Ha! Oh no, what more could there be?) all card holders may collect several sachets of water-based lube.
Water-based lube. I break. Losing all control, the laughter breaks out. Snorting from my nose at first but then shamelessly laughing aloud. Physically holding my mouth shut is no longer an option. Water-based lube. Why would you ever say that to a group of eighteen-year-old boys? This is madness. My body rocks up and down idiotically and my face turns a brighter shade of plum. It spreads. Henry M is struck with the same chuckles and as he fights for breath he whispers, Bloody hell Samuel. It’s too late now. The ripples of laughter spread. James B and Daniel C go within seconds. It hits Patrick E, who glances painfully back at us. The ripples continue to roll through the crowd, reaching Ben C and Rob S at the edge of the group. Hilarity incapacitates everyone. For a few moments we are united in ridicule.
A tear slips down my creasing face as I surrender to the absurdity of the situation. The senior nurse looks on tiredly and continues her talk.
Featured image courtesy of Georgia Butcher.