Wednesday, October 7, 1971
It’s 45 years ago TODAY that I first went to Keele. 45 years!
Like many (most?) of the first years arriving that day, I’d never been to the university before. No need for interviews, no inclination for campus visits in those days. In fact I barely expected to go to university. I was young for my year as I’d skipped 5th year. I’d had my 17th birthday in July, actually after leaving school having taken 4 A levels. Keele had been the only one of 5 universities to make me an offer, of two Bs and a C, to study History and Geography. That was considered a pretty stiff offer in those days, so I’d got myself a ‘proper’ job, just in case, working in the Accounts Department of Airfix Plastics in Sunbury
But, glory be, I got 2 As and 2Bs. The Feltham School was not blessed with exceptional pastoral care and my parents and I didn’t know any better. There was never a suggestion of ‘hang on a minute, why don’t you do another year and sit Oxbridge’ or anything like that, so Keele it was
As today, the EEC dominated the Times front page, even though BrexIN was still nearly 15 months away. ‘Mr Wilson repudiates suggestion of any deal behind scenes of Common Market voting’ read the headline (note the Mr Wilson!). Other headlines included ‘Ulster CID man is shot in back’; ‘Lord Hill defends BBC body to rule on fairness but rejects council to rule on taste’ and ‘Risk of brain damage from marijuana indicated by experiments in US’!
The sports pages were full of the previous nights’ League Cup, with wins for Spurs (yes!), Arsenal (no!) and Man United and draws for Chelsea and West Ham. Rod the mod was at number 1 with Maggie May, with the Tams (Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me) at number 2 and Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood at number 3 with Did Y0u Ever
There was never any suggestion of being ferried up to Keele by supportive, anxious parents. Mum took me as far as Euston, thrust a fiver in my hand, gave me a quick hug and said “see you at Christmas”. This scene was being repeated many times along the platform
The train journey was uneventful. I don’t think I spoke to anyone, a mixture of lack of confidence and anxiety about the destination. A couple of hours and we were there – Stoke Station. I joined the long line waiting for coaches to take us to Keele. It was drizzling, dank and dreary. Josiah Wedgwood lookked down on us from his plinth, with Station Hotel behind him
The coaches arrived and we set off. At the time the ‘D’ road was being built and the whole area looked like something from the battlefields of northern France! I’m certain that every student on the bus was thinking the same as me; what the hell I had I got myself into? The collective mood did not improve as we drove on for mile after mile, construction chaos all around us. Only when we passed through Newcastle-under-Lyme and began the drive up the hill to Keele did spirits lift visibly. It had stopped raining for a start, the sun was out and we could actually see lots of greenery. The ugliness of Stoke seemed a long way away
Then we turned into the main gates and things got even better – what seemed to a London boy’s eye like endless sports pitches running away towards what must be a sports hall of some sort in the distance. Heaven!
After the formalities of signing in, collecting grant cheques (very important!) and collecting room keys, I made my way to Barnes E4. It took about two minutes to unpack my small suitcase. I met some of the other lads on the corridor, and before too long Tim Gill, Barry Turner, John Cook and I were heading for the union. When we got there, the best surprise of all. Beer (well, Newcastle Exhibition, anyway), at 8 pence a pint! Half the price of London beer. Which reminds me that we were still getting used to decimalsiation. That had happened back in February
Possibly related to that, the rest of the evening passed in a blur of drink and chat with lots of other FYs. I don’t remember much of it except for being happy, which I remained during the rest of my time at Keele