Monday, 25 February 2013

Lowther and Liverpool University

                              LOWTHER AND LIVERPOOL UNIVERSITY

            My last year at Lowther passed by rapidly.  Most of my friends had left.  There was one girl called Mary Thomas, who was studying Geography, who had also stayed on and so we were thrown together.  One day she called me a pedant, which annoyed me.  I did not feel like one, but perhaps I was.  I thought she was a bit of a pedant herself, but I did not say so.

            In the summer, at half term, there was always a Parents’ Day.  Prizes were distributed;  there might be a display of Greek dancing by some of the girls, and tea and cakes were served on the lawn.  My mother would usually come up for these, although it was a long journey for her.  I always  received one or two prizes,  French or English.  I felt embarrassed when she came. The other girls’ mothers were smartly dressed, well made up and with stylish hairdos.  My mother looked shabby and tired, with straggling hair.  To my shame now, I was always relieved when it was all over and she went home.

            My School Reports were usually quite good:  “Daphne is industrious and works hard at her subject.”  “Daphne is doing well with her Latin grammar.”  On one report during this last year Miss Sayers had written at the end, under General Comments:  “Daphne must realize that she does not live on a desert island.”    This was  an unusually blunt comment, and I was quite startled by it.  I do not think I deliberately set out to be unfriendly, but I had no idea how to get on with other people, and I was immersed in my own inner world.  This observation nevertheless planted a seed in my mind.

            Another comment Miss Sayers made was:  “Daphne has plenty of common sense when she cares to use it.”  I can recognize the truth of this now.

            I found the Latin lessons boring, but I worked at them conscientiously, and I managed to scrape a Pass when I took my School Certificate exam.  This was all I needed.

            The next hurdle was to sit the entrance exam for Oxford University and try for a scholarship.  One of the books I had picked off the Library shelves was The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence, and I decided to write an essay on it, hoping this would make a good impression.  It did not help me, however.  At that time, in 1947, priority treatment was being given to the forces returning from the war, leaving fewer places for the rest of us.

            Once again Miss Barrows came to the rescue.  She suggested that I try for Liverpool University and sit the exam at Lawnside, giving it as my place of residence.  It worked and I won the sought after scholarship.

            In September 1947 I set off for Liverpool.  I was going to live in one the residential Halls on the outskirts of the city.  My scholarship was going to cover all my tutorial fees, exam fees and the cost of all my books.  I had not been long in the Hall when I met a girl called Wendy Appleby.  She was one of those girls who know all the ropes, and she advised me to apply to a charity which looked after ‘impoverished gentlefolk’.  Back in those days there was such a charity!  I followed her advice and I got a grant which covered all my residential fees.  This meant that my mother only had to supply me with pocket money from then on.

            At first I shared a room with a girl called Betty, who was training to be a vet.  She was a tall, gangling girl, with short curly hair, and an open friendly face.  She belonged to the “jolly hockey sticks” brigade, but we got on well enough without having much in common.  She introduced me to beagling.  We would get a bus into the country, meet up with a lot more jolly, outdoor, fresh faced types, and away we went, running over muddy fields, clambering through hedges, following the hounds.  Although being in no way sporty, I seem to have enjoyed the exercise and fresh air.  I even wrote a poem about it, in the style of John Masefield, which I called “Beagling.”

            “The day awakes, and in the fields
              The farmer comes to count his yields.
              On a lovely autumn day,
              When the sky is pearl and grey,
              Try running in the fields and air,
              With the wind upon your hair,
              And the sky within your eyes,

And so it went on and on.  There was some humour in it,  and clear observation of the people who were there, and a feeling of joy in being part of it all.  There was little questioning in those days of the merits, or otherwise, of hunting animals.  The poem ends:

            “And since God made the hare and rabbit,
              Well, dogs and men must chase them, dash it!”

            I decided not to do an Honours degree, which would take four years, but a General Honours degree which would only take three years.  This meant studying four subjects, and I chose French, Spanish (rather than German which I did not like), English and Political Philosophy. 

            I met and became friendly with two Welsh girls, Jean Williams and Mair Harrison.  They were both doing English and Mair was studying Spanish as well, so we saw quite a lot of each other.  Jean was a very pretty girl, confident and outgoing, so she soon acquired a series of boyfriends.  Mair was shyer and more reserved.  She was a nice looking girl but took no interest in her personal appearance,  dressing in shapeless skirts and old jumpers.

            After the first term, we were all given our own study bedrooms.  I was immensely proud of my little room, with my own desk, an easy chair, bed, shelves for all my books and a gas fire.  This really was a ‘room of my own’ where I could read, study, and dream.  The three of us would meet up after supper, usually in Jean’s room, with a cup of cocoa to review the day.  Jean would entertain us with stories about her current boyfriend, with Mair and myself hanging avidly on her words.

            Like Mair, I did not take much interest in my appearance.  My mother made all my clothes, but I would ruin the effect with an old cardigan which I wrapped round myself.  I was still quite self conscious about my body.

 It was now at University that I began to feel there was something wrong with me.  I did not relate in an easy way with the other girls.  I felt stiff and uncomfortable, shy and anxious.  I started reading books on psychology, Freud, Jung and Adler.  I came to the conclusion that my problems stemmed from my childhood.  And that was where it rested.  There was no counseling available in those days.  If I had even thought of  seeing a psychiatrist, the cost would have been prohibitive.  I never talked to my mother of these problems and do not know if she was aware of them.  Her deafness had created a barrier between us, and we talked very little.

            My letters to her were always cheerful.  When I was eighteen she wrote me a letter telling me about my father.  We had never broached the subject and I had never, surprisingly, been at all curious about it.  Now she told me how she had met my father when studying art in Toronto and he was teaching at the college.  He was already married.  She had come to France to get away from him,  and had then found she was pregnant.  When I was born she had written to tell him and he had replied asking her not to tell anyone as it would ruin his career.  She had never heard from him again.  She asked for my forgiveness.

            I wrote back saying there was nothing to forgive and that it was not always the woman’s fault.  I think my mother had been afraid that I might judge her, but this was far from my thoughts. At that age it seemed to me rather romantic.  I did, however, judge my father and looked on him as a ‘bastard.’  We never spoke about it again, but of course this knowledge lodged  itself in my mind, creating new psychological problems.

            I continued with my studies, which I enjoyed, as I was very studious and serious.  Perhaps I was a pedant, after all.  I was quite competitive about exams, and would sit up all night with black coffee and chocolate, swotting.  I always did well, as I had a retentive memory and would simply regurgitate all the information which I had absorbed, and I could write fluently.

            Life for me still seemed like a great tragedy;  I was of a melancholy cast and seldom found anything to laugh about.  It was hardly surprising that I made few friends.

            Joy did break through from time to time.  There were the annual University ‘rag’ days, when we all dressed up and went round collecting money for charity.  I remember dressing up as a ‘golliwog’, a forbidden word nowadays.  I blacked my face, reddened my lips, brushed my hair till it stood up all round my head.  I wore blue trousers and a red jacket with a floppy black and white tie and I got on the bus into town with my charity tin.  I felt quite different in this disguise and I enjoyed the comments;  soon my tin was rattling with coins.  I still have a photo somewhere.

            There were visits to the cinema, and we went to concerts at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, conducted by Malcolm Sargent, not yet a Sir.  I was not very musical, but it seemed important to listen to and know about classical music.  I usually found my mind wandering during the music.  My tastes were limited: Tales of the Vienna Woods by Strauss, Bizet’s Carmen, Gilbert and Sullivan.  Round about that time I read The Diary of a Nobody by Barbellion.  I was fascinated by his reactions to Beethoven and realised I still had a great deal to learn in my response to music.

            Mair and I were lucky to have a very good Spanish tutor, Professor Allison Peers.  He was an authority on the Spanish language and literature at that time, and had written several books on the Spanish mystics, Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.  We were more interested in the adventures of Don Quixote and his servant Sancho Panza by Cervantes.  I also found a poet called Unamuno who suited my melancholy nature at that time.  I liked the Spanish language, and I have always been more attracted to the Latin languages.

            In 1949 we were told about a five week Spanish course to be held in San Sebastian, a seaside resort in Northern Spain, starting on 14th July.  Mair and I both eagerly signed up for it.