f Oall the buildings. Of all the 70s-built retail outlets, mediocre chain eateries, and soulless coffee shops in Exeter, it was ‘the country’s oldest hotel’ that was struck down in the early hours of an otherwise normal Friday morning. Of course. It had to be. Because we can’t have nice things.
Obviously, any smart-arse in the know would point out that it’s not sod’s law, it’s just science – the older, archaic structures clearly being more susceptible to ﬁre. But it still seems like an additional punch to the gut; a reminder that it’s only the things you actually like that get fucked up, and that your life will always be plagued instead by the pig-ugly Queen Street Sports Direct…or something.
the only reason it’s making the pages of this very paper is because a large and important portion of the most picturesque area of town has now been lost
The fact it was The Royal Clarence that burned down, however, is the only reason we, as a student body, are still talking about it one week later. Indeed, the only reason it’s making the pages of this very paper is because a large and important portion of the most picturesque area of town has now been lost. Anywhere else, and we simply wouldn’t care. Let’s not kid ourselves. If it was any of the buildings listed above that perished – if it was the King Billy pub or the entirety of Sidwell Street even – we’d have lost interest the minute we knew that all of ‘our’ places were safe.
Because students don’t really live in Exeter, as an entire functioning city. Instead, we live and operate in a series of smaller places within the city-centre deemed worthy of our presence. Much is said of the clichéd student ‘bubble’ but I like to think of our existence more as student ‘bubbles’, plural. Wherever we congregate en-masse, whether it be Mega Kebab, Unit 1, or the Old Firehouse, is one of these ‘bubbles’, and as such we mark them as our territory. The Cathedral Yard is included in this, because of its ‘cute’ coffee shops, ample summer-term picnic space, and lovely, Instragrammable views. It’s likewise the place we’ll show our parents when they visit, to convince them of what a beautiful place we’ve moved to. Outside of these ‘bubbles’, though, student engagement with Exeter itself is limited. Ask about the locals and you’ll get a turned-up nose and a guffaw.
Dare mention the city’s homeless population and wait for the chorus of ‘I don’t feel safe here’ – how many of those apparently so upset by the result of last week’s ﬁ re made any noise about the Public Spaces Protection Order earlier this year?
There is, then, a very clear hypocrisy on show here, a privileging of compassion that chooses certain things as deserving of our sympathy based solely on our own experience as students. And this is bound to be the case when we are able to pick and choose how much of the city we want to actually ‘live’ in, creating and perpetuating those spaces in which we feel most comfortable.