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.