Professor Allison Peers was an unusual man. He loved Spain and South America and he wrote several books that made him the most influential academic in the increasing teaching of Spanish in English schools and universities. He seemed very old to me then, but he was still in his late fifties. He was by no means an attractive man but he was dynamic. He ruled our small department and made all the decisions. He decided who were the best students and what grade they would receive. So I was told by the students who were older than me.
The degree exams were in two parts. One at the end of the third year and one at the end of the fourth. I went through year three as though in a dream. I missed Bob a lot. He was now working in a London bank so we saw very little of each other. We exchanged letters. Bob’s made me laugh with his whimsical humour. Train journeys were expensive.
When I got the part one result I was horrified. Mine was the lowest exam result possible: a third. I can remember very little about that year except for the first and only interview I ever had with my professor. I felt very lonely and I could not bring up any enthusiasm for the work. Never had I felt like that before.
For the first time in my life I couldn’t concentrate. I spent hours in the library but I did not seem to be soaking up new work as I had always done.
For the first and last time my professor summoned me to his study. He was silent for a
moment then he spoke. “Come in and sit down. Whatever happened to you?” I burst into overwhelming tears and in between the sobs I talked about my unhappiness at home, how difficult my father was and how hard I worked at school and all sorts of stuff of that kind.
He waited for a while and then he said “Listen to me my dear and I’ll tell you what to do.” I stopped crying at once. I was overwhelmed by hearing him call me “my dear”. I knew instantly that he had decided I was one of his special students, which he at once confirmed. “You are good enough for a 2:1.
I believe you can get there despite this appalling result. You must forget about everything else and work every day as hard at you can and if you do that you will get a 2:1”
What I needed most was to be recognised as an outstanding student by the great man for whom I had the greatest respect. I said something like “I will do that. I won’t let you down.” That was it. I got my 2:1 That was all it took to force me out of the depths of despair. We never met again. He had high standards, he rarely gave a first and not many 2:1s. At last, after so many difficult years I became a graduate. My foot was on the first rung of the ladder that I thought would lead to success.