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Freshers! In praise of all those off to higher education shortly, and all those who supported them.

The fateful day in August when I went up to the High School to receive my A level results remains one of the most significant in my life. It opened up opportunities and experiences that I would never otherwise have accessed.

There is always a little excitement when the A level results come out in August and a new generation, for the most part, have all their hard work rewarded with a place at their chosen institution. In homage to this year’s crop, and all the parents, family and friends that have helped to deliver them to this point, an extract from Resolution…

 

Resolution cover jpeg

 

Fresher

So this was it: University life. I’d made it. Apparently I was now a Fresher.
Fresher was not a term with which I had previously been familiar. It had a distinctly American feel to it. It seemed to be plastered all over the Goodricke notice boards now though. Exhortations to attend a formidable range of events and social gatherings arranged to meet and greet the new first years, ‘the Freshers’.

It had been placed over the ‘official’ notice boards with their dark blue letterheads with University of York embossed on them in that classily distinctive flowing font. Eric the porter would no doubt be having an official conversation with the member of the Junior Common Room who had made so bold with his, or her, fly posting.

At that moment a thin, reed-like boy in flared black jeans, worn baseball boots, red polo-neck jumper and plain black glasses burst past me carrying ‘Fresher Ball’ posters, a pair of scissors and a box of drawing pins. I resisted the temptation to shout after him, “Don’t you know not to run when you are carrying scissors?” in the manner of my primary school teachers.

The Fresher Ball posters were also in the correct place on the ‘Ents’ Noticeboard, obscuring the Captain Beefheart poster donated by some musically progressive student and next to the elaborate floral poster for that Friday’s upcoming concert at Central Hall, the spaceship-like edifice which rose out of the lake opposite Goodricke College.

The concert featured Steeleye Span, the folk / electric combo who had recently been in the charts with ‘Gaudete’, a song that had the style of a Gregorian chant. It seemed a long way from the only chart band that had deigned to make a stopover in Rhyl in recent years, the Sweet.

I’d deliberately avoided going to see the Sweet as, along with bands like the Rubettes, Mud and the Bay City Rollers, they encompassed all I hated in popular music and could be linked directly to the nadir of bad taste in music, Middle of the Road’s 1971 minor hit, ‘Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep’.

I must have had toothache at the time because I can’t recall its pointless tune and lyrics without a feeling of deep and hollow neuralgia. It was the summer of standing in the High Street at the front of a shop selling rock in the shape of false teeth, and cheap plastic crap imported in horrendous bulk from Hong Kong for tourists to amuse their friends and family with on their return home.
What did these presents say about their purchasers and the people who would receive them as valued friends and family?

“I’ve been on holiday to the Welsh seaside, was wandering aimlessly along the High Street when I came across a massive set of false teeth fashioned out of reconstituted coloured sugar, and thought immediately of you. Without contemplating the irony of the tooth decay eating such a confection would promote, I bought them for you anyway, such is the esteem in which I hold our friendship.”

And every day ‘Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep’ would be played incessantly through the odious patter of Tony Blackburn on ‘wonderful’ Radio One. It was the one time that I didn’t mind him jabbering through the introduction and end of the record – that truly was how much I despised Middle of the Road. Five weeks it spent at number one, five long, miserable weeks. Again and again it was played until on the Thursday of the fourth week of the holidays I’d had enough. I waited until being paid my week’s wages (having learned from previous experience to take the pay before walking away) threw down the blue nylon jacket with the Barney’s insignia on the breast and buggered off home without a word of explanation.

“You walk away from my shop and you won’t work in this town again!” shouted Barney after me. I couldn’t think of a time when I was less perturbed.

It was a blessed relief to be away from that tune and that job. I enjoyed a leisurely rest of the holiday and was ecstatic when Mark Bolan replaced the record at number one with ‘Get It On!’

Pity, I thought not for the first time, not to have been a decade older, when the Beatles, and a whole string of the Merseybeat bands had included Rhyl in the places they could play and get back to Liverpool in their battered Austin and Morris vans in time for work in the morning.

Yes, I thought, I’d follow the instruction to beat a path to the university shop and purchase a ticket for Steeleye Span. Fleetingly, I wondered if I could afford the £1.50 for the ticket and then remembered the thought of the night before which, by an incredible feat of synchronicity, Pol Pot was having at about the same time,

“Today was day one of a completely new start.”

So how was my new life going to pan out?

The Fresher reception was to be held in a room numbered G101. In wandering around the gloom of the campus to get my bearings, I’d worked out this code. It was hardly rocket science, but I’d grown up in schools where the room was always associated with a particular teacher. This was a first floor room in Goodricke College and I made my way up the stairs opposite the porters’ lodge to find it.

One thing I had not got used to yet was the peculiar sprung floors in the college. Being of CLASP design, all the superstructure of the building hung off an internal steel structure and this meant that the floors all had a distinctive spring to them, exacerbated by the thick lino used to cushion the effect. This meant that negotiating your way along any corridor in the college felt like walking across a trampoline and the staircases vibrated as excessively as you ascended them. This was very much an acquired taste.

There was no mistaking G101 judging by the buzz of earnest conversation and the shining faces of the reception committee drawn up outside to meet and greet. I didn’t feel particularly confident in such situations but fell back for a few seconds on something I’d read in the summer to strengthen my resolve.

I finally knew I was coming to university at York when a thick envelope arrived about a week after the ‘A’ level results came out. In it was the confirmation letter, a sheet about Goodricke, the College to which I’d been assigned, and a chunky reading list running to several pages from the Faculty of Social Sciences.

I perused the reading list with studious intent, then read the total of books included on it. I would have to read at a rate of more than a book a day to complete the reading list before starting at college. Not wishing to fall at the first hurdle, I’d resolved to keep to this frantic reading schedule.

The resolve lasted less than an hour.

I decided to trim the list to what seemed the more interesting books, but on that basis I’d probably not touch any of the statistics and economics tomes, so I deliberately ringed one from each of those sections. By far the most interesting books appeared to be in the Sociology section and one in particular caught my eye, Erving Goffman’s ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’. It seemed an enticing title, and appeared next to ‘The Naked Ape’ by Desmond Morris, who I knew from his zoology programmes on the television. Desmond’s was the only tome on the list that I had read, so I thought I’d give Goffman a go.

The next day I was at Rhyl library, beneath the clock tower of the Town Hall. As luck would have it, it was undergoing another episode of underpinning caused by general concern that the clock tower was leaning and would eventually topple forwards, demolishing either the Midland Bank, the Police Station or the little pub between them. As was becoming habitual, I had to negotiate a hastily erected structure of dusty scaffolding to enter this repository of free learning in Rhyl.

I was becoming something of a celebrity reader at the library. The librarians had heartily approved of my reading in support of my ‘A’ level English studies in the previous year when I’d gobbled up Vladimir Nabukov, Anton Chekov and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. In fact, having hoovered up most of Nabokov, the head librarian suggested to me that I might like to sample the delights of ‘Lolita’ and reached underneath the counter for a pristine copy. That saved me having to request it like a teenager asking for contraceptives in the chemist. I think they considered that I was a cut above the usual requests for westerns and romances by Barbara Cartland and could appreciate ‘Lolita’ at a cerebral level, which I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t.

I handed my reading list over and the head librarian who caressed the embossed University of York letterhead with reverence, in much the way that I had, before consulting the pages of recommended reading. She was now a long way from the day her reading list for university had arrived, but realised that this represented a significant rite of passage.

dAVID aLISON wHITBY 1976New Picture (1)

Her eyebrows knitted in frustration as she realised that she would be unable to supply most of the list, even after consulting her micro-fiche machine to pull on the additional resources in the newly created Clwyd archive. She was personally mortified not to be able to service the list but she booked Erving Goffman’s tome for me as she was familiar with it and thought reading it would repay the investment. I went to pay the charge for ordering a book from the central catalogue, but she brushed my hand aside magnanimously. Any child of Rhyl requiring such books for university would most certainly not be charged on her watch.

copyright:  Ambrose Conway / David Hughes 2011
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Letter to home…

 

oipm

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?

 

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Best prices on Resolution by Ambrose Conway

The best price on Resolution can be found by clicking on this link:

Resolution

 

Resolution

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Resolution Book Cover

For 2011’s Resolution, the focus of the action had moved from Rhyl to 70s/80s university days in York.

I had toyed with including a scene from the University Campus, such as the futuristic Central Hall, rising like a spaceship out of, what was, at one time, the largest artificial lake in Europe. I didn’t think it would have much recognisability so in the end I went for a potentially hackneyed and obvious building viewed in a slightly different light.

My mum always stated, in a comment so far beyond obvious that we always laughed, that York Minster was a “landmark”. When we lived in rural Cambridgeshire, which is as flat as the proverbial witches’ mammary, we would deliberately drive her across the fen to Ely and take bets on when she would proclaim with solemn gravity “Ely Cathedral… it’s a landmark, it is!” In truth, in the topography of the fens, anything that tops ten metres above the ground constitutes a significant landmark, so technically old Crid could not be faulted in her observation!

Resolution

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