In October 1976 I started my law degree at Bristol University. This was the most important phase of my life to date and as such the memories of those early days remain as vivid today as they were then. The story continues as I realise I may have bitten off more that I could chew…
It’s difficult, looking back, to big up my room in my hall. There was about ten by ten foot of floor space, a metal framed window looking out on the bike sheds and an avenue of horse chestnut trees of significant vintage. During revision I spent a lot of time staring into those boughs and branches seeking inspiration and rarely finding it. Most people, on seeing those monsters commented on their magnificence, their magisterial standing and their sheer bloody scale. What I remember most is how disgusting their blossom smelt in May and June. I know the exact descriptor but decency prevents me from sharing it with you.
Still, learning that unedifying fact was some eight months away and I had yet to so much as empty my bags and pack away my meagre possessions. There were some drawers for socks etc, a wardrobe for coats and trousers and shoes, a shelf for whatever – most people put their toiletries there, a desk with three drawers, a chair of limited comfort, a singularly narrow bed and bedding and a bedside table on which, eventually my stereo sat.
Perhaps a digression into my musicography might be apposite. For all their many wonderful qualities my parents relationship with music was similar to politicians with truth -occasional and mostly tangential. Dad like Glenn Millar and the big bands and mum Sinatra and Nat King Cole but neither to the extent of having any machinery in the house that might play same. Their listening therefore was confined to the radio and that was to the Home service, now radio four with the occasional retuning to the third programme – radio three – but solely to listen to the test cricket. Of the two music channels, the light programme – radio two now – was avoided ( though once in a while mum might be caught listening to Jimmy Young). And of the new fang led radio one? Every radio in the house was set to melt should anyone – me – tune to that station. It took me until 1972 to afford my own transistor and discovered radio Luxembourg on 208mw. The signal was rubbish – it faded in and out – but I clung to that in an effort to catch up with my peers.
It had to be mid March 1972 because I remember that week Harry Nilsson was no. 1 and the New Seekers no.2. Looking at the chart now it also shows up a little of what was to be my social downfall in those early weeks at university, a gaff so deep and so potentially fatal to anything resembling street cred that I could easily have been shamed into leaving.
My little stereo – a white turntable with the standard 3 speeds back then and two speakers – was accompanied by my limited music collection. I made little money at the gardening job I did and a fair bit went into my passion for cricket – kit for me and a season ticket to watch my beloved Hampshire. What was left went on all sorts and only a little on music. I was happy to listen to the radio, to Luxembourg and Radio 1, John Peel et al. But none of that saved me when my newly met fellow students visited my room. Back then one of the first things that happened was your guest checked your albums, partly to see if you had anything they didn’t so you could listen to it and partly to judge.
Oh boy did they judge. And with good reason for the first album I bought was by Gilbert O’Sullivan and the second by the Carpenters. There was no coming back for the that.