Friday, 23 November 2012

Leeds (1)

Leeds 8, actually.  Harehills. 

In October 1960, I was sent to Leeds University to study Economics.  I say ‘sent’, because I don’t remember being given any choice in the matter, not least that of whether I had to go to University at all.  At school, once it had been decided that I was bright enough to be granted further education, I’d been slotted into the ‘Economics’ stream for A levels, because I didn’t seem to fit into the other two: ‘Science’ or ‘Arts’.  I was consulted, of course, but the idea of fitting in hadn’t really lodged yet – you can shift the tense there if you like: ‘hasn’t’.

They would have preferred me to be at LSE or Bristol, I’m sure – closer, less Northern – but I was turned down, so Leeds it was.  I remember the sense of danger.  Somebody once said something like ‘if you don’t feel fear, you can’t be brave’.  I was certainly afraid of Leeds.  The place looked, sounded, felt and smelled different.  Temples and monuments of  industry and commerce, built on century-old foundations of presumption.  Cramped houses surrounded by empty swathes of bomb rubble.  A language it took me weeks to broach.  Soot-stink air.  Bournemouth it wasn’t.

The digs, at the end of the terrace rather grandly called Brookfield Avenue, were run by Mrs Banks, her invisible husband, and their sassy, plump fourteen-year-old daughter Sheila.  The first evening, Sheila asked me how many potatoes I wanted.  I had no idea.  At home, we’d always helped ourselves, or at least been able to see the dish so that we could say ‘when’.  Here, the food was out back in the kitchen: I had no idea what the meal was going to consist of.  I must have made some kind of ‘dunno’ noise, because she said “well, I’ll put plenty on, leave what you don’t want then I’ll know how much to give you tomorrow, all right?”, with a sideways glance.  I hadn’t come across this kind of thing before.

I and my new-found digmates and buddies, Brian and Keith, went out on the prowl.  They were both from Northern cities, so less culture shocked than me, but none of us really knew what to do.  We found a coffee bar, had a coffee or two, managed to find our way back to Brookfield Avenue.  Mrs B gave us an unwanted cup of tea and sent us off to our shared bedroom at the top of the house.


  1. Ooh, I'm settling down to enjoy this. You've set the scene very enticingly.

  2. I'm going to love this too - reminds me of going to live in Manchester when I was seventeen. Foreign language, foreign manners and scary streets. Lovely.

  3. My first landlady asked me if I wanted any tomato sauce.
    When I said yes she picked it up,licked young the open top and handed it to me. Didn't say yes again after that.

  4. I already want to know what became of Sheila.

  5. This is an insight into how it really was for you, which is not how it appeared to me at the time.

  6. All I remember is your getting home at Christmas 1960, the end of your first term, and producing to us -It's Everly Time - one of the best albums ever.
    I knew nothing of the Trauma of Leeds.

  7. Sorry Martin, all I remember is spending the next eighteen months trying to avoid contrived encounters on the stairs ...
    Sue, Richard - I may have conveyed the wrong impression, there was nothing traumatic about it. Scary, yes, but in a good way.