It was 1977 and after my stint in uniform it was time to make a new living. I went back to tailoring which I'd always enjoyed but now it seemed boring. The private investigation agency with my mate Paul didn't work out. We probably spent more than we made. I even had six months as an artist (without the garret) but I was sure I couldn't make a living at that. It was time to further my education and photography was what I wanted to do.
Look at me. I'm a civilian. I'm wearing a T-shirt and worn blue jeans (admittedly still with my old army boots). I've even got a blue anorak with an artificial fur lined hood and a leather shoulder bag to carry all my textbooks and a camera or two. I shamble now instead of marching 'cos that's how civilians walk.
First day and the college is a beautiful old building built of red sandstone blocks. It must be over a hundred years old at least. Stone staircases with worn wooden handrails.
There's an inception for newbies. I'd imagined serried ranks of desks and a solemn atmosphere. Instead I got a large room with studio lights and rolls of background paper in the corners. There were two old wooden kitchen tables and people were dragging chairs in from other rooms. Some of them were sitting on the floor or leaning on the walls. I stood near the back and tried not to assume parade rest. I couldn't quite bring myself to lean on the wall though. It turned out that these people had been on the course for two years already and I'd have to play catchup.
I did my best to fit in even though I was the oldest student there. In fact I fitted in well enough that I struck up a close friendship with a beautiful chinese girl called Miranda. After a couple of weeks I asked her if she'd like to spend a weekend with me and she said yes.
First I had to explain this to my mum who lived with me. She wanted to know what this Miranda was like. "About this high" I told her "Dark hair, slim figure........and she's chinese.".
"Yes" says my mum "But is she catholic?" And then we fell about laughing.
They got on like a house on fire. I remember one night I was sitting there reading a book and they were ensconced on the sofa whispering in each others ears and turning to look at me and giggling. It's very scary when your mother and your girlfriend are doing that. Heaven knows what they're talking about.
Back at college I'm in the canteen and this bloke everybody called Big Nick (because he was big) was speculating with his cronies as to who was (being intimate) with the 'chink'. I let it go. I didn't want to make trouble. It was bubbling up inside me though and midafternoon I went down to where I knew he had a lecture. I knocked politely on the door and went in. Apologised to the lecturer for the interruption and then pointed at Nick. "I want a word with you.......outside" The class fell silent. Out comes Nick. I explained to him that I was (intimate) with Miranda and I didn't appreciate him calling her a 'chink'. He was quite apologetic. He goes back to his lecture and the class seemed quite relieved that one or both of us wasn't covered in blood. Actually we got on quite well after that and sometimes used to go for a pint at lunchtime there being a pub just two minutes walk from the college.
I'd been there a few months by now and my senior lecturer (a lovely blond irish girl not much older than myself) wanted to put me in for my A level to get some practise in. "Give us a break" I tells her "I've only been here five minutes and you're supposed to have a twelve month run up for an A level". She backs me into a corner "You can do it" she says "And you're being entered so you'd better get used to it.".
So I'm up in the canteen a few days later. A big room with tatty furniture and a couple of sofas against one wall. Lying on one of the sofas with my hip flask in one hand and a cigar in the other. Staring at the ceiling and considering what practical work I can do for my A level. This bloke pulls up in an ill fitting jacket and a mismatched tie. He's somewhere in his thirties so I assume he's some sort of lecturer. He tells me that I can't lie on the sofa drinking and smoking so I leave to go elsewhere.
Beri (my senior lecturer) is at the bottom of the stairs and wants to know where I'm off to. I tell her about the bloke upstairs and that I'm off to the pub. She tells me to wait and goes off upstairs. After a bit she comes down and tells me I can go back to the canteen. So off I go. Back on my sofa and light a fresh cigar. Ill fitting jacket bloke turns up again. All sweaty face and greasy hair and tells me I need to clear off, so off I go.....again.
Beri's still at the bottom of the stairs and wants to know where I'm off to now. I tell her that rotund bloke with BO is back so I'm going to the pub. She tells me to wait again. I can hear her shouting upstairs. She tells bad natured bloke that he can't boss one of her students around and I can drink and smoke wherever the hell I want to. Come to that it'd be better if he buggered off to the main college (her words) and never came back.....I never saw him again. Beri comes back and tells me I can go back to the canteen but I'd had enough of that. I asked her if she'd like to come to the pub with me instead and after about a second she says "Yes........but give me a shot of your brandy before we go"..........:)
It's nearly Christmas and Miranda had gone back to Hong Kong. There was a college play though and we all gathered in one of the larger studios to watch it. Some sort of updated nativity thing with humour. I didn't pay much attention as I was already quite tipsy. My mate Kevin was in it though as he was doing some sort of art course on the other side of the college. Halfway through somebody comes in and whispers in Kevins' ear. He leaves the stage and comes back a few minutes later to announce that his wife had just given birth to a bouncing baby boy. Well, the bouncing part was still to be determined but mother and child were happy and healthy.
Lunchtime and we're off to the pub in a bunch of about a hundred people. I'm swaying a bit but it's allowed. I'm a student, we're not expected to be sober. At the bar I find myself standing next to Beri and under some mistletoe so I ask her for a Christmas kiss. After two or three minutes of Christmas kissing we're getting applause and some hoots from the students and staff so we reckoned we'd better stop.
The next night there was to be a party at a pub south of the river. One of the lads wanted to go but didn't know how to find the place so I went with him on the bus. He tells me that he wants to 'score some grass' but doesn't know where to go. I know a few low life places so we went to one of them. Chris gets the beer in while I go to the mens room. There's a bloke in there so I ask him where I can 'score some grass'. He tells me that he's got a five quid deal on him right now. Money changes hands. I go back to Chris who's barely started his pint and tell him that we've 'scored'. "Is there anything you can't do?" he asks "Probably not" I tell him. I catch up with the beer while Chris rolls a three skin spliff and we smoked it as we walked to the party.
Well, that was some of the things from my first three months at college. There was other stuff but this blog is long enough already.
I passed out top of my class (bit of bragging there) and was offered three jobs within the first couple of weeks. I took the one on the burns unit of a nearby hospital. Mostly because the head of department was in his sixties and I wanted his job. Two and a half years later I'm head of department at the hospital and lecturing (photography) in the evening at my local college. My fiance and I were just starting up our advertising and model agency at weekends.
My mum was made up.