It is October 2nd 1975. Carrying heavily laden cases, I’m on my way to University in York for the first time. The A level results had gone particularly well and I managed to get into my first choice of University.
My mum insisted on coming with me as far as Manchester on the train, in part to check I don’t leave my cases anywhere, also to make sure I eat the stack of sandwiches she had made early that morning. My mum, in my lifetime, had never felt the need to travel to Manchester for some urgent shopping, but on this day she does. Perhaps it is the thought of the second born flying the nest.
I can’t work out if my trepidation trumps my excitement. I’m assuming the next few days will be difficult. The torrential rain as we arrive in Manchester Victoria does little to improve the mood and we both get soaked as I see my mum off the train. She is crying, which she claims is the rain. I have butterflies but try to sound breezy. In the minutes before the train’s departure she reels off a list of things to remember, of which the old chestnut of changing my socks and underpants every day features, together with the command to ring that night after seven, to be sure she is home to hear about my progress.
I wondered if my dad had received such lavish attention when he left home to fight in World War Two. I doubt he had as many corned beef and pickle and egg and tomato sandwiches as I was carrying, unless he was expected to feed his whole regiment.
All this comes to mind as we were discussing family history with my uncle Glyn this weekend. In honour of his and Janet’s arrival, I had blitzed the attic trying to find artefacts and photos from my parents, as he is the family historian. Eventually I was able to find a biscuit tin from my youth which dates from about 1960 and shows a little girl in a snowy scene wearing a red scarf and hat. The girl’s face has outlived its usefulness as it has been covered by my mum’s faded, yet distinctive writing on a heavily sellotaped piece of yellowed paper.
The Premium Bonds alluded to on the cover note have long since disappeared, but all the other contents, Army Records, Important Letters and the catch-all Bits and Bobs, were present and correct.
Amongst the salubrious company of the Important Letters were two written by me in my first weeks of University. As my mum had provided stamped letter cards, all I needed to do was to find time to write the one page letter and locate a letter box. It would have been churlish not to have completed those two tasks.
I had not seen the letters in over forty years, and did not remember writing them. Immediately on reading them though, I was back there on my first morning as a student following a restless night’s sleep in my new room. I can remember the emulsioned breeze block that cooled my back from the incessant heat of the central heating system, which had a default position of breathlessly hot, even when turned off. I’d grown up with ice on the inner windows of my bedroom and this central heating would take some getting used to. The letter was the first task after the morning shower as it gave me the opportunity to wile away some time with some purpose.
The letter was inordinately positive and breezy, which was not quite how I felt in those first few days away from home. I was going to be able to fully enjoy and indulge myself in student life, but for now the butterflies had not subsided and I was already exhausted from the charade of looking positive and confident when I felt the opposite.
It was a relief when I teamed up with my first university friend, Davy from Belfast, who seemed to have both direction and momentum and was patently not lacking in confidence. I must have come across, or at least I hoped I did, as mean and moody in those first few days as I tried to re-orientate myself to this new life. In fact I was melancholy and disorientated in my new surroundings.
I suppose we have all experienced similar feelings on our first forays away from home.
What were yours?