113.Odds and sods

A few other memories stick out from the Birmingham years. I will clear the decks.

Strangely, my first taste of cheesecake, at a city centre wine bar, at the beginning of year two, in the company of Ray, Paul, Jane, Fran and Fiona. The girls were raving about Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’ album.


Then discovering at about the same time that my flat mate, Ian Selby from Swindon, was a law student by day and punk by night. The transition included precisely-applied layers of make-up, and was eye-grabbing. Ian loved the Damned, in particular. He also possessed a photographic memory, put to good use in exams.

Over in Shaun and Dad’s flat, a crowd tried to convince me that gravity could be outfoxed, and that levitation was real. I cried with merriment at this madness. Laid on the kitchen table, I felt myself lifted by six or so fingers. They told me to be quiet and relax, which would help me stay afloat when their digits were removed. The bump back to the table brought more laughter.


A year or so on, Shaun raided the cloakroom at Lake Hall for numerous coats that he continued to put on until he could no longer move his arms. And then whirled around on the dance floor, like a cross between a fat scarecrow and a Michelin Man gone bad, until he fell over with drunken dizziness.

Shortly afterwards, a drive up to Market Drayton, in Shropshire, to drink and stay overnight in the pub run by Mark Armstrong’s parents. With Shaun, Martin and Neil. Literally drinking myself under a table, beneath which I slept. Awakening for a piss in the night and hoping that the wolf of an Alsatian behind the bar had discovered no way to leap across and devour me.

A month or two later, turning up with a few friends at a Sunday night drinking event in the Chemistry department. A bunch of first team rugby players in attendance took offence at something Johnny Price said. He got a light beating and the rest of us were under threat. What stuck in the craw was that our mates Mac and Mark Armstrong (both in this elite corps) were saying that they might “have to” join in against us. We escaped intact, and still able to think for ourselves.

Sometime after this, arriving early for a seminar in 19th century English literature. Just myself and the tutor, David Lodge, the author of several fairly well-known novels. He talked about Charles Dickens voyaging to America, where he observed that spittoons in the US bars were often loaded to the brim with phlegm.


The following year, an unplanned trip up to Billingham, near Middlesbrough, with the chemistry department. Hosted by ICI, who were scouting for graduate talent. A last minute withdrawal had created a place for me, Big Dad explained, even though I was an arts student. Nice food, decent hotel, moderate beer and the furthest north I have ever ventured. Cold and bleak. And reinforcing my growing suspicion that corporate life was insane, a fiction.

All through the four years, letter writing was a critical part of my life. Armed with a cup of tea, music on the turntable or John Peel on the radio, off I would scrawl, often penning three missives of an evening to friends or family. So enjoyable.


Birmingham days were often a magical time, especially the middle two years. The end academic result, a 2:2 Bachelor of Arts degree, with honours, was fair, given my low level of application.

I was notified of my grade in August 1979. By then I was in real trouble.





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