Summer was coming to an end and so was my tenure with the Parks and Recreation Department. “I suppose you must have been of some use” the area manager informed me on handing me an assortment of dismissal paperwork.
It was clear I was not cut out for the world of work but already I was preparing for the world of further education. I had been offered a place on a Humanities course at Trent Polytechnic. Anyone with any knowledge of education in the 70’s will realise I had set my sights pretty low. Polytechnics were a kind of second league university which actually offered some pretty good courses in practical topics and even art. Humanities was pretty much the floor sweepings of some of the other courses like history or sociology aimed for people like me who lacked the commitment for a proper course. Not to worry, I had a place as well as somewhere to live and a student grant. The latter being means tested had been eroded by my dad’s commitment to working a 60 hour week at the factory. Alongside me the sons and daughters of the management classes were raking it in due to the facts that their parents were financially savy enough to actually manage their money rather than stick it in a biscuit tin. And so I was a poor relation for the next three years. Not that I was that bothered, I had a check, at the age of nearly 20 I opened my first bank account.
My plan was simple, to get away from home and then, probably to give up after a year and go back to Norwich. The getting away was important, there was a whole history of getting away from the ‘small town’ as the Hot Rods had informed me
We’re gonna break out of this city
Leave the people here behind
Searching for adventure
There’s a life for us to find
Or the gospel according to Springsteen
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, a suicide rap
We’ve got to get out while we’re young.
In the 70’s people really did get jobs for life, you left school you started work, you retired, you died. There were no gap years or time out, there was time served and a gold watch. The picture painted by Springsteen of ‘growing up to do just like your daddy done’ was very real. I was a young man, I needed to get away.
Polytechnic was a reality check; the typical student was Dave from Sheffield who was studying surveying or quantity surveying or anything which required the regular wearing of a hard hat. Dave was 18, having just left school he had a girlfriend back home and liked to have Sunday lunch with her parents. Dave was a nice guy who would own three records, one of which would be by the Eclectic Light Orchestra.
There were 10 of us in our block. Determined to show my independence I arrived by train with all my belongings in a gigantic family suitcase which had a handle which would cut your hand in two if you attempted to carry anything heavier than a T shirt. It made a man of me though, to this day I refuse to use those travel cases with wheels. I was met by the permed block leader Gary from Leeds who showed me my room which had a wardrobe, a single bed, a desk and an angle poise lamp, I was in Heaven. Being a solo traveller, I was first there but slowly my block mates arrived, most of them were variations of Dave or Gary but there was also Vince from Lincolnshire who looked like he might own a Zeppelin record or two (he did). There was also Al who was to prove to be my closest and most enduring friend. Al had long hair but looked like it had a lot of professional attention, he was very clean. He had also taken a year out like myself working in the same offices where his dad was a manager and was also on the Humanities course. The really great thing about Al though was his record collection which was rather at odds with his appearance consisting of some really esoteric releases, often on the Virgin label. Despite being a card-carrying conservative, he was happy to listen to Henry Cow, Van Der Graff Generator, Hatfield and the North or even the Clash.
As the rest of Britain was gearing up for the 80’s I spent the next few months listening to the sounds of 73 (an era ago) thanks to Al. The more experimental sounds of prog were the soundtrack to my new life which was a big improvement of the sounds of ELO blasting out of the other rooms.
Regrets, I have a few but one of them is that I was Lazy in my choice of education opting for something that was easy rather than challenging or interesting. I was to spend the next year living in what I think were ex RAF barracks on the edge of Nottingham. I was determined not to go home, my parents kindly brought my belongings over but that was all I saw them until Christmas, that was just as well as apparently, they let my room to a Chinese guy who worked with my dad. I had to become resourceful many of my fellow students would return home at weekends, there were even a few who kept their Saturday jobs back home, I was to spend quite a bit of time entertaining myself with Van Der Graff Generator records. It as OK but my old schoolfriend Phil nailed it on a visit “there’s no one here like you” he remarked.
Moving to Nottingham was a watershed in my life, that was it, I have lived here ever since, I found a new death trap, a suicide rap. It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t the best period of my life which seems to be the case for a lot of people who went to University.
Despite still being an avid reader or the New Musical Express (my Thursday ritual) I started to lose track of contemporary music. Al had more than a passing interest but my brain was getting confused by all the other music I now had around, even the dullest music fan would have a record player and at least three records (one by ELO) so there was plenty to listen to. Literally no one had a television, there were 420 students on campus and one TV lounge, I even stopped watching Top of the Pops.
Al liked his Bowie and a fitting memory from my initial Polytechnic years is fitting.