The University Years: What’s Luck If Not An Incontinent Seagull? #1975 #bristoluniversity #memories

I began my university life in October 1975. It was life changing in many ways and the degree I ended up with set me up on the path to success. But in that first term and year, I learned little law, understood less yet probably received a greater life education than before or since. This week, it’s time to explore my finances and my first date.

Let’s talk money, shall we?

In today’s press there is an article about students considering suing their universities to repay fees they spent on tuition that they failed to receive due to strikes and then lockdown. This is ignoring the living costs they incurred while not receiving their education for which a state loan maybe be the only option, putting the student into immediate and long term debt.

In 1975 neither was one of the worries that assailed me about starting university. To start with all the tuition fees for my tertiary education were paid for by the state. It didn’t matter if I was from affluent or poverty stricken circumstances, the tax payer funded my degree. In addition I received a grant, albeit means tested, that paid me for my living costs. From memory, in that first year it was in the region of £450 out of which I had to pay my Hall fees – where I was provided with 2 meals a day, seven days a week if I wanted them, and three at the weekend. I still had money left over for text books – and that ate up a fair chunk doing a law degree, which led to a significant second hand market and some subtle chicanery as ‘in the know’ second years palmed off out of date editions on gullible first years – plus general fun stuff. In a city university like Bristol – what was known as ‘town and gown’ as opposed to a campus university – travel costs could be an issue though bus fares were pretty low and anyway most walked or cycled.

We were well off. Better off in my second year when the maintenance grant went up to I think £750. I didn’t realise it immediately but I was bloody lucky to be educated when I was.

To be honest I had no real idea about living costs, in the first year. I valued money because like most youngsters I had little, but budgeting wasn’t a skill I was taught. While in Hall, that wasn’t much of an issue as things like heating and lighting were included in my accommodation, but when I moved into a flat I had to wise up. That, though, for this naive 18 year old was in the future. No, I had a bank account – I still have the same one at Lloyd’s Bank I had then, so much so my account starts with a 00, it being so old – into which I paid this gloriously huge cheque, even if, later that week I wrote a slightly smaller but still, to me, huge cheque to my hall.

We didn’t talk much about money, back then. Some, who were meant, under the means testing to recover large contributions from their parents – I didn’t given my family circs weren’t of the wealthy sort – and if they didn’t get it or all of it, that put them under pressure and they complained about it. But generally we had cash and that was all we needed to know

Some took the cash as a windfall to be immediately used – you hear of people wanting to have ‘liquid assets’ and had I heard that expression in my first term I would have nodded knowingly. Several were spending their evenings and some lunchtimes in the subsidised bars investing their grants in liquid if ultimately only borrowed investments. I think the quickest time from starting university to having burnt through the grant, mostly on booze was six weeks.

I didn’t. In part that was because I had my brother as a role model. When it came to monetary caution this man knew no superior. I have often wondered if his love of Jane Austen originated from his mishearing her name and thinking it was Jane Austerity because this man lived beyond frugally. Visit him in his room and he would offer you something home made. One specially was his coriander cordial. It’s not often I’ve flirted with Urophagia but there were moments, when sampling his finest that brought me closest to experiencing the joys of repatriated bodily fluids.

I soon realised I’d have to make up my own mind on my spending priorities and while I understood my bro wasn’t the role model I needed, neither was Dave my by now imbedded best friend. He didn’t drink to reckless excess – I will swiftly pass over the one evening we undertook a significant gin experiment and ended up covered in lightly flaming paraffin as we played rugby with a workman’s warning lamp that we’d freed from captivity by some roadworks. He didn’t do drugs. But he was determined to have as good a time as possible and if my bro’s stated aim was to have enough left over from his grant to pay for Christmas presents and see him through to January and our next cheque, Dave’s was to ensure there was not a penny left come the 12th of December when term ended.

I tried to be the voice of reason, but more often than not I was quite pleased to be drowned out. Some of our conspicuous consumption was moderate – I was introduced to deep fried spring rolls and sweet and sour sauce from a Chinese takeaway near Redland Polytechnic. I’d had neither before and while I doubt they cost very much they seemed like quite an extravagance the first time round. Some not so much.

For instance, it was he who pressed me to ask my dance partner and fellow law student out on a date. And having somehow found the courage to mumble the words and been surprised beyond reckoning when she’d said yes, it was he who suggested what that date should be. You’ll understand from this that, in making my tentative ‘a deux’ suggestion, I hadn’t actually any sort of event in mind. I kept things conceptual in case of rejection. Dave’s and my birthdays fall within a week of each other and while he planned a few drinks with mates for the day, mine fell on a Saturday. ‘Take her out for a meal, to celebrate’ he suggested. ‘And do something fun first so there isn’t too much pressure on the meal being ‘it’.’

Oh great. Like what? She was a girl… no, a woman. We’d talked a lot but had I the first clue what she’d actually like to do? Nope. To this day I don’t know why I suggested the zoo but I did and to be fair she seemed keen. Perhaps amused might have been the better way of expressing her reaction. On the 30th November I met her at her hall and we set off on a cold but dry afternoon for Bristol zoo, a ten to fifteen minute walk away. She told me she’d washed her hair, obviously had applied make up – 1975 was the era of blue eyeshadow and Sam was no different to other women of her generation in sporting two small blue crescents – and wore tight jeans and an even tighter knitted top. The outfit certainly emphasised her curves – to be fair, like Brooklands race track she was all curves – and I did well not to dribble. Did I have inappropriate late teenaged Male thoughts? Nah, I wanted to see the penguins.

We were having a lot of fun, even if most of the other visitors comprised groups of harassed parents when a moment that probably deserved a sort of inverted Churchillianism to describe it ‘this is not the end of the beginning but the beginning of the end’ occurred. Something large and airborne – from the quantities I surmise a genetically modified albatross or passing pterodactyl possibly – voided its capacious and clearly over full bowels adding an intriguing if unwelcome brown, green and taupe streak to her otherwise white-blonde hair.

This was a situation well outside my range of experiences and the correct response – sympathy, rippjng off my shirt to provide a cleaning aid, offering to put out a reward for the pelt of the incontinent miscreant – passed me by as I laughed. I may have added (a) it was meant to be lucky (b) at least the rest of her hair was freshly washed so it was easily restored to its previous glory and (c) should I wait for her in the cafe if she wanted to dab off the worst?

I’m not usually lacking in empathy and I’m sure the combination of facial expression and body language – possibly combined with the fury and ritualistic belabouring about the head with her fists – brought home to me the errors of my initial responses. I did my best to retrieve the situation but I wasn’t then and am still not very good when confronted with copious tears. She used my jacket – a homemade pink denim affair of which I was quite proud – Mum made it, not me – to grind off the worst while also redistributing her eye shadow in a way that left her looking rather like a giant panda that had swallowed a mix of antifreeze and slush puppy as I led us back to her hall where I was told – 1. She’d have to rewash her hair, 2. No, I couldn’t help and my presence was, it’s fair to say actively discouraged and 3. She’d meet me in the restaurant I’d booked and she might be late…

Not the greatest start. Maybe next time I’ll tell you about the rest of that first date. Spoiler: it ends with me embarrassed, more broke than I’d anticipated and back in my own bed in hall, alone. But she had agreed to go out with me again…

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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28 Responses to The University Years: What’s Luck If Not An Incontinent Seagull? #1975 #bristoluniversity #memories

  1. I don’t usually do lol – but I did 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mary Smith says:

    Laughing was not a good move!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Ritu says:

    Oh, His Geoffleship! 🤣🤣🤣

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Gotta take back those laughs. Good episode, Geoff.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Poor woman, I can sympathise! Which you obviously didn’t do adequately …

    I got the full grant in 1975 – £816. Riches indeed. I remember drawing £10 a week out of the bank.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      My memory is of a lower number for 75 but maybe that was after I’d paid for hall!! I’m pretty sure it went up the next year by quite a piece and nearer the 816 but I’m probably confusing myself


  6. Suzanne says:

    Those were the days where the chap always paid. Unlikely, for that to happen now. Your date must’ve seen beyond the nervous lad facade and decided you were a bit of alright to agree to another invitation.
    OMG, you have just ignited thoughts of my first dates 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. willowdot21 says:

    It’s supposed to be good luck isn’t it? 💜💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Widdershins says:

    Yeah, probably would’ve gone better without the laughing … still, it’ll be interesting to read how the rest of the date turned out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great bit of your life story! I was on a government (Pell) grant, thankfully, and still i just paid off my loans in my early 40s. And i was frugal, if a bean burrito for 69 cents for lunch each day applies. I have no idea how my boys will do it. Something practical like trade school, maybe. Higher ed. is a mess, nowhere more than here in the U.S.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I had to laugh Geoff. We really do produce these essays to make sure we don’t loose a great memory and in this case the story of your date triggered two.

    In the first; a girl I was walking home from Jr. High (Middle school) who had all the best of those same curves and was an extremely high quality gal (still is for that matter) turned to say goodbye to me at the intersection of her street made it halfway through before I witnessed the voiding of a similar bird’s offcast spraying (magically, I tell you) around her perfect left breast. She was wearing a pink blouse and the stain failed to coordinate, but the real issue was — she didn’t notice!

    So, there I stood – not answering her goodbye – trying to figure out what a decent young man should do or say in such a situation and yes, I failed so badly that I ended up just starring at that soiled breast – which began slowly to get her attention. I finally was able to say, “umm, you need to change your blouse” Her expression changed from “why are you looking at my boob?” to “say what?” to “EEEEAACH!! ! ! !” and she ran the last 75 feet home leaving me standing there wondering why my dad never prepared me for such a situation.

    You story also brought up the ghastly blue eye make up of 1975, which was 1976 for me and another shapely gal, neigh, wench; who I had no business other than undisciplined hormones to be with and I used to tease her relentlessly between undisciplined hormone sessions about her fake blue eye fungus. Finally I managed to reign in those hormones and cut short our relationship. Her response was not positive and she stormed off calling me several undeserved labels and a few I did deserve, but then a few days later she appeared again at my apartment with a friend I’d never met.

    With caution, I invited them in because it seemed to be the civilized thing to do. This place had a small kitchen counter I liked to sit on and I used it now mostly because it did not invite sharing and asked her what’s up.

    She then made her mission became clear by launching into one of the most scathing bombardment of insults I’d ever witnessed first hand and it even caused her friend to sink back against the furthest corner she could find with an expression that clearly meant she wanted to melt out of sight from embarrassment.

    With her blue-fungal eyes aflame and the insults getting more and more creative, I realized that this was her mission, to reduce me in front of her friend to shredded ashes, but this thought only strengthened me and I may have grinned with anticipation as I realized how this was going to pan out in my favor.

    She really was gorgeous, but her temper – wow. She had to be setting off seismographs in the surrounding 3 counties but even that great little body of her’s only had so much capacity for vitriol and soon the stream of words puttered out, but by that time she was easily within arms reach and we were almost face to face thanks to my seat on that counter.

    I reached out and pulled her in for a simple kiss, which surprised and confused her. Then said, “I know we had a rough break up and I’m glad you’re here so we can correct things between us” which really confused her, but then I reached up and put my thumbs on both blue eye lids and pressed, just hard enough to secure good purchase of that goo, and pulled down to draw two blue arcs from her eyes, over both cheeks that ended where both bottom upper and lower lips met.

    She screamed – loudly, and ran off to the bathroom.
    He friend did a full attitude recovery and burst out laughing.
    I couldn’t get a word from her for her gleeful hysterics.

    My curvy ex reappeared, glared at me with eyes that betrayed how close to death I actually was. Both the arcs were mostly cleaned up – but not fully,
    She stormed over to her laughing friend, grabbed her by the nearest hand and towed her to the door to make the best slamming door exit I’ve ever felt – again setting off those distant seismographs.

    It was nice to be free of her.
    Thanks for the memory.


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