In the 21st century where folks even share their baby scan pictures online, it is sometimes difficult to know what is entirely appropriate to share. Today, I want to honour someone who died recently. Some of you will know him and some won’t and that’s OK.
Let’s go back to the mid-eighties and find me in Dewsbury in West Yorkshire. I keep coming top or second in class which inevitably makes me unpopular with my peers. I think I am fat and ugly. I dream of escaping to somewhere but don’t know where and just keep staring out of windows hoping the answer will turn up.
The O-Levels results come in and the lovely Mr Day tells me I have an “outside chance” of getting into Oxbridge. Well I had no intention of going to Oxford and just felt in my soul that Cambridge was the right place for me and knew the college too having seen a photo of it in a book years and years ago.
So I applied and got an interview. Remember the envelopes with Trinity Hall marked in red on the front. I was so thrilled but terrified too.
Dad drove me to the interview and realistically as a mother myself now, I realise that mum’s nerves just would not have taken it. I babbled all the way trying to guess what I would be asked. I had refused my Deputy Head’s offer of a mock interview telling him in that precocious way that I had that as he had not gone to Cambridge, how could he possibly be able to offer me guidance on Cambridge interviews?
Mr Day had argued for a back-up plan of applications to Polytechnics but I was having none of it.
I walked through an arch to the strains of “Welcome to the Pleasure Dome” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. This was to say the least a surprise.
I have a gentle and lovely interview with the Senior Tutor where the only concern was could I get back off the squishy sofa. I could have stayed all day debating medieval history which I loved but time was up and I left saying “Short but sweet!”. Years later, Sandra would remember this.
And then I met you. I clanked my way in my plastic white sandals up your wooden staircase sporting a luminous yellow handbag, a tweed skirt and a white anorak which Mum had deemed was the perfect outfit for the interview. Goodness know what you thought when I tumbled into your room.
I remember the room was dark and I could not see your facial features because you had sun steaming in through a window behind you. I recall a leather jacket and again wondering where the Gandalf-like looking Professor I was expecting to meet was.
Your first questions was about how to choose if a moral principle and a legal rule clashed. As a good Catholic girl, I launched into a load of rubbish about abortion. It was like a maze – every time I made a point you would argue another one and I would find myself up yet another blind alley. I had quite fancied you when I walked in but became miffed and started to fight back thinking that I was clearly not going to get into college but I would make damn sure you did not forget meeting me.
Soon enough the interview was over and you were seeing me out. Supercilious shit thought I! So I turned round and gave the final blast “I will see you in October!”
I don’t really know why I got into college. You did say the fighting spirit helped. My A=Level grades were great but not perfect.
So I did see you in October 1987 and heard of your passing this week. College never quite lets us go and I have it as a touchstone throughout life’s ups and downs.
It hurt more than I thought it would. One of those hits to the solar plexus and a few tears. Anger at myself for not coming over to talk to you at the reunion purely through embarrassment that you had given me a chance and would see that I had not reached my potential. How we assume there will be another chance, another day and then time is up!
It suddenly struck me that for years I have held memories of Cambridge so dear and not quite worked out that without you I would not have them. Memories of finding my feet a bit socially, parties, events, falling in love, making long-standing friendships, realising that everyone did not think or feel like me and that was OK and to be celebrated. Posh frocks and peach schnapps. Pimms at your yearly “At Home” event in the Fellows’ Garden. Being called in by you to tell me that Cambridge was not all about work and to make sure I had a blast whilst I could too. Punting and strawberries and cream. Being able to welcome my friend H to the place and show it and her off.
I remember that you told me I was going to drift through life and sadly I have done just that. How astute you were!
I remember conversations about Catholicism,
I remember you telling me that my strops would not work with you as you had a toddler at home who was just the same.
So what is t he point of me writing this?
Because that is what I do for better or for worse.
Because I want to thank you for the memories that mean so much to me.
Thanks for taking a chance. Although I may not have contributed much to the legal world, I did help some people along the way who needed a voice and did not have the means to pay for legal representation. So it wasn’t all a waste and usually I can communicate clearly and concisely and I owe that to you. I remember you throwing my first essay back at me telling me to return it when it was 1 or 2 sides of A4 rather than a novel. I remember you telling me you did not need to know that the Defendant had a green tie. I was ever the story-teller rather than the lawyer.
I love that place with a passion. You must have too as you stayed for decades. Why would anyone ever really want to leave it? Or choose Judas Iscariot or Mary Magdalene colleges?
So thank you for the memories and rest peacefully.