My name is Ralph Jones but for one of my three years at university I went by the name of Katie Cook-Bouillé. I founded a comedy publication at the University of Birmingham and chose to do so under a pseudonym. The publication would go on to dominate my final year and result in a serious encounter with the police.
I spent a great deal of my university life deep in extracurricular activity. That isn't a euphemism. My undergraduate experience was – as it is for many – a process of realising what I wanted to do with my life, doing lots of it, and hoping I could complete enough of the work in the background. In my third year I wanted to up the ante. As final year is supposed to be the one in which you do your highest level of work, I chose not to tell my parents about the magazine I'd be starting. It was a risky project that had the potential to jeopardise my prospects after university.
And so, in October 2009, The Jugular began. The magazine was a comical look back at that month’s news, poking particular fun at the university’s eccentricities. I ran the publication as authentically as a 20-year-old with no experience of journalism could. On a Tuesday each month I would print, fold and staple hundreds of copies of the magazines in a print shop over about four hours, leaving my hands red and sore. The following day I would get up early and mischievously distribute dozens of copies across the university.
One of the most fascinating elements of the whole experience was sitting ten feet away from people who, while killing time, would stumble upon the magazine, oblivious that the writer of most its articles was within earshot. I heard fierce criticism (a girl saying, for example, that she couldn’t be amused at stabs at the uni paper because she knew how important it was to its staff) as well as outbursts of laughter (I remember watching someone I knew repeat the headline of an article out loud to a friend, and then read the rest of the magazine, transfixed. Perhaps less than 72 hours later she pitched a piece to the magazine and I published it).
With the gift of hindsight, the whole thing was incredibly odd. But it was about to get much odder.
I FOUGHT THE LAW
I decided, because I was 20 years old and an idiot, that to spread word about the magazine it would be a good idea to go out at 11pm and write 'THE JUGULAR' all over the university with chalk. Two faithful friends who were privy to my secret joined me, and on a January night, wearing gloves and hats, three naïve young men wandered around Birmingham's campus, adorning stone surfaces with chalk, shouting and laughing all the while.
Then, of course, a security guard arrived. To this day I can feel the panic in our hearts as two of us ran from the library steps, leaving the other behind and at the mercy of the security guard. Before long we were hauled back and had to explain why, at almost midnight, we were covering the university with temporary graffiti.
Then the police turned up.
I could see why they had been called. When security saw us we could have been about to smash the library windows. But the whole thing soon became farcical, and when one officer asked questions like “If you're sitting in a job interview, and you and another guy have both got good CVs but you've got this on your record, who do you reckon's gonna get the job?” I asked him to repeat himself, pretending to find the question fiendishly difficult. We were let off with a warning but were ordered to erase all the offending graffiti, which was much harder than it sounds and meant that I wore down a hole in the only thing I had to hand – my hat.
About a month later my blood ran cold as I received an email to say that we had to justify our behaviour to the university. Fortunately this was a huge anti-climax (and a farce once more – rain would have rubbed out the chalk in a few days) and we were told that we would receive only a caution. I remember the flood of relief that engulfed me as I stepped into a beautiful blue February morning, marvelling at the absurdity of the whole saga.
Producing The Jugular meant leading a form of double life. I can't deny that this was exhilarating but it might explain why I felt entitled to graffiti a beautiful university for no real gain. I made a good number of enemies as well as fans while running the magazine but if I had my time back I would do it all again – minus the graffiti. Adopting a fake name meant I learned a great deal about myself and what I wanted to do with my time. It was a hell of a lot of fun while it lasted but much more satisfying was when it came to an end and I could be honest about my part in the whole bizarre charade.