A friend recently put me in touch with an alumna of the college from which we graduated, who was asking for reminiscences of student life. Well, I still have four large hardbacked notebooks dating from 1 January 1972 to October 1973, so in reaction to her prompt I’ve been sitting here plumbing the depths of late adolescence.
I was still working out the dynamics of living cheek by jowl with other people, and particularly with BOYS. The sexual revolution of the 1960s may well have been fresh in everyone’s minds, but I’d spent the previous 8 years at an all girls’ school and I really didn’t know how to deal with flirtation, dating and all that jazz. Of course I learned rapidly… but the diary reveals that there were a lot of inward cries of pain. I think now that the diary’s cast of thousands probably spent a good deal of time rolling their eyes and throwing their hands heavenward and muttering, “What is this girl DOING?” At least one of them said frankly, “I have pity for you, but no sympathy!”
I noted rumours in the diary about which of the lecturers (or lecherers) were said to be having affairs with other lecturers' wives, or with students. For some reason, although both female and male friends mentioned lecturers making passes at them, I don’t recall any homophobia, nor any scandal being publicised, or any disciplinary action being taken. Maybe if it was taken, it was taken discreetly and the student body didn’t get to know about it. There was far more fuss when the Students’ Guild proposed that there should be a machine on campus to sell condoms. That didn’t go down well with the authorities at all!
One of the delights of student life was talking – unravelling the world and rebuilding it to our own preferences. Students, including me, commonly used to drop in on lecturers in their studies or in their lodgings on campus; on occasion I even became a confidante, being told far too much by lecturers about their home lives and extra-marital affairs. I remember one of these extra-marital lecturers asserting that "all really passionate music is a series of climaxes" and I blithely said, "Of course!" - not having a clue what he was on about.
Instead, my diary records the giggles as we struggled to straighten an iron bed frame after seven people had been sitting on it; or when we had been rehearsing dance moves on an upper floor of a male student hostel, having to placate the people on the floor below whose lights had been dancing along with us.
The nearest I got to scandal was this: “I sat with the Opera Group secretary watching other principals and chorus rehearsing act 1 of “The Sorcerer”, with Emlyn Roberts playing the piano and Alan Bownas directing. In one of the pauses for stage work Emlyn came over and looking very worried, touched my arm and said, “You haven’t got a safety pin, have you? It’s not for me, it’s for a friend.” I said, “I can go back to the hostel and get one if you’re desperate.” He put a hand on his jacket above his trouser waistband and admitted, “Yes, I am!” So I got him a pin, and saved, if not his life, at least his reputation.”
On far more occasions there were long gossipy mini-rehearsals of dramatic productions, and appreciations of vintage recordings of same. I remember us sweeping line-abreast with linked arms down into the city (and back) laughing and talking and singing and dancing to the dismay of other pedestrians, but we really liked to have LP players and tape recorders available, to play music, or performances by famous singers or actors, on which to base our arguments.
Whether we met in hostel rooms or in lecturers’ lodgings, the discussions of music, literature, history and philosophy went on into the small hours. Yes, there was an official lock-up time at which females were supposed to depart from male accommodation, and vice versa, but in practice so long as you didn’t annoy the neighbours, and you let the “offenders” out quietly, nobody really made any fuss. Those of us in off-campus accommodation would have missed the last bus and faced a long walk “home”, and my diary reminds me how my male friends gallantly offered to walk girls back to their lodgings when these late nights broke up; it also records my disappointment that the offers were all platonic.
I sat up late into the night with coffee and sympathy when friends, male or female, were suffering from rejected love; I knew that the girl in the next room had gone away quietly to have an abortion; I knew that one of my mates was panicking because his girlfriend’s period was late. But none of it seemed to happen to me. Not till I started my summer job up here in the Lake District.
And that's a whole other story!