WHERE does the time go? It is 25 years this summer since I left school. A quarter of a century chalked up in the blink of an eye. One minute you are straddling the hinterland between childhood and fledgling adult, the next you're middle-aged and wondering who hit fast-forward on life.

Rewinding the tape to 1995 (yes, I still think in analogue), the months between finishing my Highers and starting university were spent working the 6am shift in a greasy spoon transport cafe, flipping burgers, frying eggs, and rustling up rolls with square sausage.

I would then do the back shift in local factories, packing Jaffa Cakes, shortbread, whisky or posh jars of jam and chutney – sweating under my hairnet and listening to the tinny sounds of Blur, Oasis and Supergrass on a portable radio.

After paying digs to my parents (a paltry £50 per month), every penny possible was saved towards the adventures that awaited when it was finally time to hotfoot it to the big smoke where student life beckoned.

Those hazy September days in Edinburgh are something I've been thinking about a lot lately with talk of "virtual" freshers' weeks set to take place at colleges and universities around the country due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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I'm not questioning the logic of this decision. The peril of Covid-19 hasn't gone away. Even so, I can't help but feel a pang of sadness for those who will miss out on a time-honoured tradition before the hard work of knuckling down to lectures begins.

More than just parties, sticky-floored nightclubs and cut-price drink offers, freshers' week is a time to forge bonds with kindred spirits.

Starting university, it felt like I had finally found my tribe. I remember linking arms with new friends to perform a lopsided Riverdance (this was the mid-1990s, after all) over the slippery cobbles of the Grassmarket.

When colleges and universities return this autumn, it will be with a blended learning model as teaching shifts largely online in a bid to prevent Covid-19 transmission. There will be fewer large-scale lectures, with so-called student "bubbles" and one-way systems in place around campuses.

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While a necessary part of what we dub the "new normal", that doesn't mean it is easy. I worry about the isolation many young people across the country are feeling, especially those who will soon move away from home for the first time. The challenge is ensuring alone doesn't become lonely.

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