I remember being very keen to escape from Hull and Willerby. At age 18, my chance had arrived. I was off to Aston University in Birmingham for 3-years. It wasn’t my family I wanted to escape from it was the place. There was a big world to explore and I wanted to have a fresh start. Be the person that I was instead of the person people thought I was. Back then, Birmingham seemed miles and miles away. The train ride was via Doncaster and Sheffield and it was tremendously exciting…..
Birmingham itself was like a concrete jungle. Aston is near the city center and then it literally was concrete underpasses, concrete walkways, concrete bull ring and … well, it was all so much concrete really! Did I care? Hell no. I loved it there. I opened a bank account at Barclays and for 6-years lived off an overdraft paid off each semester by receipt of my grant monies (Thank you Barclays!). Aston is also like concrete. Huge, massive concrete and brick buildings with high ceilings and six or seven stories. Investment in this new University had however commenced and so there was a new glassy modern library and other buildings going up. The geology department was different. It was situated in what had been a small Victorian house by the library and what can only be termed a long pre-fabricated building (see photo at bottom). It had character.
It was a different world back then it really was. No cell phones or computers meant we had to do everything the old fashioned way. It was also safer or I was naive? I would hitch hike home for a weekend. I would just decide Friday afternoon to go home and would set off walking from the city center with my thumb signal. I recall one day a guy in a small red vintage sports car stopped and drove me to Sheffield… that was fun. I always made it in 4-5 hours and would hitch hike back again on the Sunday afternoon….
Of course, it took me a while to understand people in Birmingham. A buzz was, I soon learned, what I might get at a bus stop… for example. It also took me the first year to truly settle in. It wasn’t as easy as I had imagined moving away and living on your own. But by my second year, I was stage manager at Aston Campus Entertainments in the Students Union, on Student Council and I had moved off campus to a flat in west Brom. that I shared with Brendan.
The first night that we moved in we thought we would go for a beer. Down the high street we went and the sound of reggae music ushered us into a pub. We opened the door talking animatedly and walked in. Then there was that moment when we realised that the music had stopped and that, apart from our chatter, there was total silence. We looked up and around. Every single person in that pub was black….. except us. And every single one of them was staring at us. I think we reacted the right way as we decided in for a penny, in for a pound and went to the bar. We ordered a beer. The chattering recommenced, the music came back on and within 30-minutes, Brendan and I were chit chatting away to everyone inside…….It turned out to be a really great place full of great people!
Naive? Probably….. but we had fun.
The Geology class of 1981. Yours truly is top row second from the left…..