A New World

In my last year at school, my teachers suggested that I would stand a good chance of getting a scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge if I stayed on for a third year. I would have loved that because having tutorials with some of the best teachers in the country appealed to me strongly. BUT, the thought of having to stay at home for another year was definitely not desirable. I was at the end of my tether. I had had enough. So I was accepted at Liverpool in the Spanish Department with Professor Allison Peers, one of the best known of dons for his books about Spain.

I finished my exams and wondered what I should do for the long summer holidays, whilst I was waiting to see if I had won a scholarhip. I was very short of money as usual. I always had to earn it for myself. I managed to get a job making sandwiches and worrying what I would do if I didn’t get the scholarship.

At last the day arrived when I got the letter that gave me the good news. I was overjoyed. My headmistress wrote to tell me that I had earned the highest marks ever for my French scholarship paper. I was to receive a generous grant, the equivalent of a secretary’s salary in those days. My father, after some twenty years, received his first promotion. He was very happy but he did not offer to help me. My mother had a talk with him and suggested that he lend me some money. He grudgingly handed over a five pound note which then was white and the size of a small tablecloth. I had never held one in my hands before. I was not given the first payment of my grant until nearly the end of the autumn term.

I repaid Father and at last I was secure.

I arrived at The Women’s Hall of Residence on my own. To my astonishment, most of the new students were accompanied by their father or mother or both. I was to share a room with a girl from my school who was going to read social sciences, which was a very new subject. She had a large suitcase full of brand new clothes. I had an old battered case with not much more than one of everything. My father had given me strict orders to return the case immediately as it was the only one he had. I asked him to make sure he sent it back before the end of term but he did not. I had to wrap up my few belongings in carrier bags. Like Scarlett O’Hara I made an oath that I would never be poor again. My room-mate’s mouth dropped open when I took up the lid. “Is that all you’ve got?” she said. I was filled with mortification and hatred. But I said nothing. I had not yet discovered how to respond to such insensitive people. I very soon decided that we must change rooms as soon as possible. I thought I should be alright with a medical student, but again we didn’t get on. And in the third term I had a room to myself.

It took me a long, long time to learn how to talk with these people who seemed to come from a different planet than I. All the girls were dressed up to the nines with smart suits, new shoes, many of them with high heels, nylon stockings and New Look dresses. The war had been over for two years. We were still rationed but good clothes were beginning to trickle into the shops. We had ration cards for them but they soon died away. The black market was still rife so most people with money could get all kinds of extras.

We had no idea that the tables would turn in the sixties when it was the done thing for students to wear torn jeans and the sloppiest of trainers or tennis shoes. I would have had no dressing problems then. In close proximity with young women from all over the place and living together in a sort of hotel gave me the opportunity to study all kinds of them and why they behaved and spoke as they did. I came from the stone ages.

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