Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Oxford Life - 02 Social

Oxford in the early '70s was very different from what I imagine it is now. This is the tale of my time in this august institution.

Table of Contents:

Episode 02 - Social.

For many people going to university meant freedom, a liberation, escaping the restrictions of home life and meeting all manner of new people. For me it was, in fact, the reverse. My parents were very easy-going and by the time I had reached 18 I could come and go as I pleased. All they asked was that if I was going to be out late that I would phone home and let them know what was happening, when I might be home.

I arrived in Oxford, where the colleges were single sex. The ratio of men to women was around 7:1. The only time you saw women was in the lecture theatres. I had grown up with a brother and sister. All my life schools have been mixed boys and girls. I had friends, I went to the pub and recently started dating Lesley, the head girl. The all male environment was a shock.

I was thrust into an environment where I knew no-one. I was the only person from my school ever to have gone to Oxford. So there were no fellow pupils from years above to act as an intro. Early on I formed a social group with similar, fish-out-of-water state school pupils. We circled the wagons and it was hard to break out and extend our circle of friends. I lacked the social skills and confidence needed to network and meet new people. 

Dramatis personae (L to R):
Back Row: Pete Miller, Mike ?, Vince Russett.
Front row: Mike Gover, Alan Bunker.

That is me on the right holding the album cover in front of me.

Alan Bunker, Vince Russett, Mike Gover (seated),
Mike ? (standing), Mark McLellan (me).

The colleges acted as social silos. You lived in hall, dined in hall, went to the JCR (Junior Common Room) to watch telly, mostly with fellow freshers. Most universities have a union bar and canteen where people would congregate. You could drink cheap beer and get introduced to friends of friends and gradually expand your social circle. Not so in Oxford.

There is an Oxford Union but it is not a union bar in the usual sense despite the name, it is, in fact, a posh boys debating society where would be politicians honed their oratorical skills. It had nothing to do with socialising at all. Hertford did have a college bar in a dingy, poorly lit basement where you might find half a dozen people gathering on the evenings that it was staffed by one of the cleaners.

My girlfriend went to Southampton University to study medicine and the relationship did not survive the distance. We split up at Easter and then followed three celibate years. No fun at all.

I went to two parties in three years.  I cannot even remember the first one and the second was one we organised ourselves in our third year when we were living in Stratford Street. 

All this had a detrimental effect of my cheerfulness, what nowadays would be termed mental health. By the third year I was not in a good place. There was no obvious pastoral care provided by the university, so I went to the doctor to explain the depth of my unhappiness. They asked a few questions: Do you get on okay with your parents. Yes. Are you managing okay with your studies. Yes. Do you have a girlfriend? No. Do you have a boyfriend? No! The outcome: “Nothing really to worry about. Off you go”. Thanks a bunch pal (sarcasm)! These days I am sure I would receive a more sympathetic hearing.

In my fourth year (1974) Hertford was part of the first group of all-male Oxford colleges to admit women by which time it was a bit late to have any impact on my life.

I am glad to report that in my fourth year I did a project in RLAHA (Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art) where I met new people, acquired a girlfriend, started socialising with a different crowd and things improved considerably.

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