Temporarily homeless in Birmingham as the autumn of 1977 began, Martin Dyer and I started to look at the accommodation adverts that were dotted around. It was comfortable to be ensconced in Andy, Shaun and Neil’s Maple Bank flat as the beginning of my third year loomed into view. But the full set of five occupants would soon be back.
Retrospect says this was a time of considerable confidence. My yearning for a deep relationship with a female was bubbling and nagging away, but there was clearly fun to be had in the interim. The American Studies course was OK, I had a wide group of mates, and another two years to enjoy myself. I was generally happy.
Martin was a robust bugger. Tall lad from Tetbury, Gloucestershire, who was very tidy about his appearance. Often to be heard singing one of a range of his favourite soul tunes, and not immune to a fight, especially when drunk. Bio-chemistry student who was the only person I have ever known to dissect his turds, once a month, as a check on his overall health. We both wore long, dark leather coats.
A house in Harborne, to the west of the university, was found. Not too far from the pub, the Plough, outside where Big Dad had scaled a municipal bus. I found the street on Google maps 15 seconds ago. Clarence Road. We would be sharing with some people who turned the hot water on just once a week. When the dishes would be washed and a bath taken. One of them, Fergus, looked like a dirtier version of Robert Plant. Their strategy was a money-saving tactic.
Each to their own, but I was never poor or alternative enough to enjoy this stance. Nor Martin. It was quite dispiriting to try and cook something as the week progressed and you had to boil a kettle to wash grime-encrusted plates and cutlery. We both started eating more on campus and taking a shower in the sports centre each day. Not great circumstances, but we adapted.
For alcoholic escapades, we usually returned to two halls of residence on the Vale Site, Lake and Mason. In Freshers Week, standing at the Mason bar, I had the pleasure of a newcomer, Anne Clayton, deciding that my lips needed kissing. A thrill. We hooked up for a month or so, but I knew fairly soon that it was unlikely to last. From Stoke, Anne was a kind girl who (for me anyway) had a heavy set of protocols governing the what, when and where of a male-female relationship. I was probably hard work. The desire to be free, and unaccountable, led me to break it off. The right decision. If there was to be a girl for me, long-term, she would need a flexibility that I still had to encounter.
But Jesus, I did want somebody – and year three was a time when I was inundated with a growing level of interest and offers. A great development that autumn was my discovery of Northern Soul music, referred to back in Blog 3. This firmed up a friendship with Rick Hibbert, another individual from Stoke. Rick and I developed a daft double act. Often operating in the general reading room in the library, where we must have annoyed the hell out of the more studious boys and girls. The library was a regular location for devouring my packed lunch, more often than not tuna or pilchard sandwiches that must have stunk the place out. I can imagine the sighs of relief when we left.
At the end of October, Martin and I had endured enough of the Harborne house. We found an alternative in nearby Ladywood – which turned out to be the world’s coldest, darkest and draughtiest flat. It cost us a pittance in return, but Martin’s girlfriend (now wife) Angela was beside herself with anger at having to stay in such squalor. It was horrible, but young males ride such storms.
Martin gave me my first recipe, for spaghetti bolognaise. Up until then, I could muster little more than an omelette, sausage and bacon, and all sorts of toasted stuff. I have never been hugely interested in cooking, but Martin’s notes started off slightly more thoughtful efforts to prepare my own food.