DIARY 3 October 1968 Leeds

My first room in Leeds

1968 Leeds FILTER 1

I went to Leeds to join the university early in October 1968. Having spent a year as a student in London I did not look or feel like a fresh-from-school ‘fresher’. Nevertheless, as a new student I was expected to live in Bodington Hall, a hall of residence as they called such places. It could have been a monastic life, full of men sharing meals in dining rooms still called refectories.

Having trodden the streets of Chelsea and Soho I was too sophisticated to bear that life. Escaping this fate was simple; as a late acceptance, they did not have a room for me. I was issued with a sleeping bag and told to sleep in the gym. I had nowhere else to go so I stayed only one night. The next morning, I took the bus to the student union, taking the sleeping bag with me. I never went back to Bodington Hall. Ever.

There were plenty of other students milling around looking for somewhere to live. Another homeless student approached me with an offer to look for somewhere together. He and I had little in common except spectacles and beards but the arrangement would give us mutual support in our search. I will call him Robert. He took the first place we found but he let me stay with him until I found my own place.

Robert and I shared meals of boiled potatoes and baked beans; the sleeping bag came in handy for sleeping on the floor. Robert was thoroughly pleased with himself, seeing his arrival at university as a personal triumph and recognition of his status[1]. He wished to join the debate then current about comprehensive versus grammar schools, supporting the elitism of selection at age eleven[2].

Hearing that I was a grammar-school[3] boy, he assumed that I would also support selection. I wasn’t really bothered. It had lifted me out of the expected industrial drudgery of life in Birmingham but, whilst attending my grammar school, I would rejoin my friends at the local secondary modern in the evening at the after-school club.

Nevertheless, he got me to write a letter to New Society expounding his rather than my beliefs. He wrote a similar letter signed by himself but it was my letter that was published; my first publication but untraceable nowadays.

It was only a few days before we found an attic room for me amongst the back-to-back houses which lined the cobbled streets of Leeds 6. I did not need Robert’s help to carry my few belongings so I said farewell and took the 56 bus to my new home. I never saw Robert again. We never even passed in the corridors or at the students’ union. Very odd: was he an imaginary friend?

Beechwood View suited me. It was sterile, newly decorated, an attic room with a skylight which I could only see out of by standing on tiptoe. A photograph shows the view[4] but I could never see this myself. I obtained the picture by thrusting my arm out of the skylight as far as it could go and clicking. There was a kitchen but two floors down. This was also newly decorated, with thick gloss paint covering brick walls. Clean, fresh, Spartan.

The resident landlord must have only recently moved in. Perhaps he was new to the country too and did not realise that tenants did not require such cleanliness or deference. He appeared to be from India, with a young wife and son. He would serve me masala tea and chat politely about my course. He showed me the Hindu shrine he had set up in what would have been the front room parlour. He did not mind when I asked if I could draw a mural on the end wall of my bedroom.

I was the only tenant, for most of the time. Occasionally a young woman turned up, older than me and more worldly. She was accompanied by a slightly older male who I recognized from the Philosophy Department but in another year. She did not stay long. A few years later I recognised her name as a journalist but checking to see if it was her there was a significant information gap about that time.

On the first Saturday in my new home I went to a party in Headingley. I managed to drink too much Tetley’s but still found my way back home. That seemed to augur well. Now to face learning to be a philosopher.

[1] Robert is mentioned anonymously in my blog entry on this site about students in the 1960s: https://50yearsago.today/about/encyclopedia-1960s-university-students/

[2] The first comprehensive schools were set up in 1946, others followed in the late 1940s and 1950s. The largest expansion of comprehensive schools resulted from a policy decision taken in 1965 by Anthony Crosland, Secretary of State for Education in the 1964–1970 Labour government.

[3] My school would NEVER call itself a ‘grammar’ school. It was just a ‘school’. Perhaps being named after a Tudor king made it too snobbish to adopt a middle-class epithet.

1969 Feb Beechwood Close

[4] The unavailable view from my window on a winter evening. Late one night I heard an eery cry that could have been a woman weeping. I dashed down the stairs but saw nothing. Otherwise, these streets were always quiet.

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