Anecdote – choosing a college. Where to study in the sixties.


Choosing a college

Choosing a college is hard.

My first choice was Royal Holloway. It was a girls’ college. I thought that suited me. It was changing over to being mixed and I would have been in the first year of boys. They had built a great new block of accommodation. It had alternative floors of boys and girls with great self-contained flats with communal areas. As there weren’t enough boys they were offering a cut-price on the flats. It sounded good. I quite like the prospect of being sandwiched between the girls.

I managed to get through the interview (I think they liked me – they offered me a ridiculously low offer!) but, due to Captain Beefheart and a misplaced set of priorities, I missed out on that place by a single grade and that was that.

I went round with my meagre A Level grades looking for a place somewhere else. That wasn’t easy when you’re scraping the barrel. Oxford university were probably not interested though Oxford council might have employed me as a road sweeper. I was offered a place to study Botany at Durham but I didn’t want that. What bands were going to play in Durham? I wanted to be in the heart of where it was happening. This was 1968. There were only three possible places to be – San Francisco, Los Angeles or London. As neither LA nor San Fran offered any possibilities of either studies or employment that narrowed it down. It had to be London and the centre of the Underground. That is where ithe action was.

There were only three colleges that had places left in Biology – West Ham, Barking and Walthamstow. I mounted my metal stallion and took off on a tour to check them out before some other miscreant filled those vacancies. My job was to convince one of them that I was a viable proposition for a degree in Biology.

West Ham and Walthamstow were both OK and would have accepted me on the course. I discovered that these colleges, being not the most salubrious, were looking to fill the empty spaces and would basically take anyone who walked through the door, had the basic qualifications and was still breathing. I walked through the front door at Barking clutching the evidence of my qualifications and took a deep breath. Crash hat under my arm and motorcycle boots clumping on the lino I looked around to be confronted with a poster for Roy Harper. He was performing in the college that Saturday.

I took that as an omen – which is a strange thing to do when you do not believe in superstition. I confidently presented myself to the correct, rather hassled admissions officer and was subjected to a five minute interview. I was accepted. I never looked back.

I was in the midst of the London Underground for three years. All was right with the world.

I walked out with a broad grin and happy thoughts.

Looking back I’m not sure if my criteria for choosing a college, or course of study, was based on the right criteria? Perhaps I should have been more concerned with the nature of the course and where it might lead rather than the number of girls there, or whether Roy was performing that weekend? However, things have a way of working out, it seems to have served me in good stead. I was in London through the height of underground scene, the purple period of Rock Music, I managed to see Roy Harper in all his glory as the fiery young man, and also nearly every important band going. I was part of the scene at a time when we thought we were changing the world and everything was fun, optimistic and rosy. We had things to stand for, feel passionate about and the will to change it. I felt myself to be part of a new order that was based on a better way of living. And I managed to scrape a degree that enabled me to have a fantastic career in teaching and get to be involved with thousands of brilliant, lively, creatively minded kids. And here I am do what I love – writing.

What could be better?

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