I began my law degree at Bristol University in October 1975, determined to reinvent myself, meet interesting new people and learn about the law. None of it proved as easy as I’d hoped…
Having failed to make an impression with Trevor, my next door neighbour in Hall, I wondered about a sandy haired first year called Chris who seemed friendly enough, in a dopey-eyed way that put me in mind of a sloth I’d once seen at London zoo. He moved with the deliberation of a badly assembled kit man, worried he might fly apart any moment. Dave and I wondered if he might have a vitamin deficiency or something when, after a couple of weeks of term he disappeared from view. Dave, being bolder than I decided to go to his room – it was on our floor in the middle of the block – to check all was ok. He returned shortly and beckoned me to follow him. Curious, I did as bid. As we approached, a series of noises, animalesque in their intensity made him grin and me frown. ‘Is that…? Is he…?’
Dave pointed at the keyhole. ‘See for yourself.’
I couldn’t. Frankly, I didn’t need to. ‘Do you think he’ll be ok?’
‘Helluva way to go, though.’
We both pondered that philosophical conundrum and withdrew to Dave’s room.
At the beginning, others wondered if Chris was playing some sort of porn tape, so unlikely did it seem that he’d have the stamina. But then we met the object of his passions. A short, apparently myopic blonde – myopic, given she never seemed to notice us as she walked to and from our shared bathroom, though it could be she was in a state of unbridled bliss – who rumour had it was on his course and technically resident in a Girl’s hall, Manor House, but where it was harder for him to stay over, unlike the more liberally monitored Male halls. I never did know her name, or hear her speak – cry out, squeal, roar and moan, yes, but anything articulate, no – though there was nothing else about her she kept to herself.
Like an excess of anything juicy – fruit and gossip – it loses its attraction if overexposed, so we stopped following the discussions on their likely gymnastic exploits. Then we heard he’d dropped out shortly after Christmas; we barely batted an eyelid, though I did wonder if it was because he never appeared to go to lectures or through exhaustion.
My efforts to chum up in hall being a slow process, I turned my attention to my course mates as I began to grapple with the intricacies of the law. I’m not sure I had many expectations about the course or what it would comprise… no, scrap that. I had none. I had chosen Bristol and, specifically law for three reasons, none of which had anything to do with the detailed research I’d done on what I’d learn over three years – viz, none.
My journey to my being in a law lecture theatre on a scuddery rainy day in early October 1975 were as follows:
1. One of my best mates at school said he was doing it because he couldn’t imagine doing any of the subjects he’d studied to A level and he needed to choose something that sounded cool when he told people… by which he didn’t mean his great aunts
2. When we had a careers evening, one table was given over to Southampton university to explain the merits of doing a degree, rather than say, joining a local bank or going to agricultural college. It was manned by two guys, not much older than me, it seemed who said it was really a government funded three year excuse to try and meet as many members of the opposite sex as possible, wrapped around a few lectures and fewer exams – they had done law and were now teaching it. They admitted agricultural college was probably the same but outdoors and with more straw.
3. I worked for a friend of my mum’s on a weekend job. Her son was six or seven years older than me and he’d come home from London for the occasional weekend to work on restoring an old MG4. He was also a Dave and a qualified lawyer who had spent university and then a year after doing what he needed to keep on the course, while pursuing as many opportunities for sex as possible. He’d been to Bristol and in his considered opinion, there was something in the damp Atlantic air and hilly West Country ambience that ensured a higher proportion of consensual couplings than any other English university.
You’ll notice something of a theme. I didn’t really believe any of them, of course. I knew me, and how shy I was. By the time I left for university I was both a virgin and an incompetent dater. But hope is a powerful driver and reinventing myself as a wannabe lothario somehow didn’t seem too much of a stretch. I was wrong, of course, but it did mean I entered on my degree with the blankest of canvasses so far as expectations were concerned.
If I was going to make friends, and perhaps – whisper it quietly – win fair maidens – hell, anything approximating to a maiden, in truth – I needed to at least begin to get to grips with the basic plumbing that is English Law.
Shit, that was hard…
Next time, how necrophilia and conspiracy to corrupt public morals introduced me to our criminal legal system…