Saturday, 24 November 2012

Leeds (2)

  One of my more thoughtful schoolmasters, ‘Reg’ Dixon (a Yorkshireman as it happens), imparted some pearls of wisdom in our final chat at the end of the summer term.  I promptly forgot nearly all of them, of course, but one stuck.  “It’s not going to be like school, Tim.”  Once I’d got over the shock of a teacher calling me by my Christian name, he explained that I would be expected to take responsibility for my own behaviour.  “You won’t get put in detention or sent on a cross country or anything.  You’re a grown-up now.  Or at least –” there may have been a wry grin at this point “– you’ll be treated as if you were.  Good luck.”

What Reg was saying, of course, was that I needed to acquire a quality called ‘self-discipline’.  What he didn’t know was that my mother had been drumming this into me since I was twelve, without explaining it except in terms of obedience.  So when I landed in Leeds, I was a mix: obvious but undirected intelligence; deeply implanted, barely grasped but already resented moral precepts; entire absence of any framework of experience to convert all these notions into behaviour; and an intuitive curiosity, about pretty much anything, that nobody, least of all me, had yet spotted.

This isn’t a cliffhanger, so I’ll tell you now that after three academic years I ended up with a third class honours BA in Economics.  I’ll tell you a few things about how I got to that, and the unexpected moss I gathered on the roll there, next time I visit this subject.

Meanwhile, it was Freshers’ Week.  I managed to find the University and sign on to my course.  I discovered a walking route, through Chapeltown, which was as quick as the bus and saved the tuppence fare.  A system was set up whereby I could mail major washing home, in a suitcase, and get it back, ironed and folded, three days later.  (This was cheaper and more reliable than the local laundry – my mother imposed it, without complaint; indeed, it became my duty.)  Brian and I immediately discovered the Union bar – Fred’s – where a pint of Tetley’s mild was 1/2d as opposed to 1/10d for the bitter (which was, we were told, what was wrung out from the sawdust when Tets’d finished making the mild).  I joined one or two clubs – chess, film – which I never subsequently attended.  There was a Freshers’ Ball on the Saturday, at which we predictably failed to pull.  As did most of the girls.  All of a sudden, home seemed an excitingly long way away.
Given that until then I probably hadn’t spent more than a couple of dozen days and nights away from the protective presence of my parents, it’s remarkable how quickly I got the hang of it. Isn’t it? After all, I’d only just turned eighteen.


  1. harehills, Chapeltown road, Sheepscar, Camp Road, Woodhouse Lane and than a short hop to the University.

    Seeing Leeds through your eyes makes it sound grim but it wasn't really : we thought it the centre of the universe.

  2. I do not believe that there is a mother in the land who would do that nowadays, nor more than a dozen students who would send their smalls to the laundry every week.

  3. I can't recall that it was I who had to unpack the laundry packages, to earn my pocket money. I think I'd remember if it was. But I do recall their arrival and despatch. Nuff said.

  4. No, it wasn't grim, "Unknown", I didn't mean to suggest that. Part 3, if I get round to it, will redress that balance. [If you're who I think you are, you owe me an email ...]

    Z, Richard - I know, unbelievable! I hesitated to write it, but was fairly confident in my recollection - thanks for the corroboration, R. I don't think it lasted more than a term; gawd knows what happened after that (probably best not imagine ...)

  5. Oh yes, I see it is. Just.

    But I do recall that somehow you became an adult overnight almost. In my first term (1971) I was in digs and the landlady used to serve up "tea" at about 6pm. (I was in Sheffield) Every day there was a plate of cakes which the four of us who were lodged there never really fancied. One day we put ink markings on the cakes and counted how many days the same cakes reappeared. (After a bit they got sort of dusty.)

    In December I was given my marching orders when I stayed out all night, so I had to blag a place in hall for term two.

  6. I've heard of people bringing washing home but posting it, never. Amazing.

  7. Oh, great cake story, AQ!
    I eventually got booted out of the digs for a similar reason (don't ask for details), and got a flat.

    Mig, don't forget we didn't wash as much as we do now. (Though thinking about it, we were students ...)