At school in Edinburgh I had University in prospect but aged 15 sat a maths exam while suffering from ‘flu and failed. So for my “Highers” I studied geography instead. It was a real blow to find aged 17 with the first years of Highers behind me that maths was required to matriculate; the school wouldn’t let me resit maths so my father withdrew me.
I’d always wanted to work on the production side for BBC radio so I took a boring job in insurance and for four years applied to the BBC for a Studio Manager post: each time reaching the final ten, but not selected and the academic bar increasingly heightened. They finally suggested I start through a secretarial route so I used the pension pot money to fund a 6-month course, only my father became ill. Panic to find a job, which I secured in the Edinburgh British Council. What a rotten secretary I was; so embarrassed by the amount of paper on which I’d made mistakes that I took it all back to my flat to bin.
Fortunately, I was promoted within 18 months and posted to an administrative job in the London HQ then in 1968 to the Cambridge Office. There, through my work and in the shared Millington Road flat, I met and got to know academics. Stimulating conversation became a norm such as I’d never before experienced, and the urge to learn prompted me to consider going to University even though I was then aged 30. But what effect would this have on my British Council career? I knew they would only allow me to return if I took no more than a 2-year break. The Director General, Henniker Major, had recently come from the Foreign Office where he’d been in charge of Personnel. I put my case to him, an unusual one as the concept of a Mature University Student was then unprecedented. He took my case forward and won me 3 years unpaid leave. This was extended to Civil Service staff so I was a ground-breaker.
Wolfson College offered me a provisional place to read English and required me to take 2 ‘A’ levels to prove my current competence; so in 1971 I enrolled at the Tech (what ARU used to be) for English and History, studying in my spare time over 9 months. However, Wolfson delayed admitting Mature Students until 1973, so where to apply? I approached New Hall, who referred me to Lucy Cavendish College. I went for an interview, which was pretty daunting, and as I was leaving was called back to write an Admission Essay. There in the old Library in College House I was presented with a half a dozen questions and given two hours to answer one. In total panic I answered “Self-realisation is not an Antisocial Principle” in relation to Wordsworth which at the subsequent interview was co [Lucely Speaking - College magazine] nsidered as an intriguing response to a philosophical question.
The idea for “Lucely Speaking” came from the Student President, Judith Ennew, elected in Michaelmas Term 1973. Judith came up in 1972 to read for a B.Ed and the following year was accepted for the Certificate in Social Anthropology then went on to gain a PhD. I was the Student Association Treasurer; Sally Cockburn and Rose Buckley, both Affiliated Students who came up in 1972, were elected to the Committee. We co-opted Margaret Hirst, who came up in 1973 to read History, to design the covers. It was Margaret's idea to incorporate the nautilus shell with the College scarf; the snail emerging from it seeming appropriate as emblematic of late starters who would slowly but surely stay the course!
The five of us met termly in Judith's house to put the magazine contents together. We produced one magazine per term; I typed the contents onto a stencil which I then "roneo-d" off copies by hand in the College Office. Some of the articles were signed "Lucasta" this being the first couple of letters from Lucy Cavendish Students’ Association; these were usually by me but provided anonymity generally. Gradually the range of contributors was widened through Judith's soliciting of articles from Fellows and Senior Members.
After graduation in 1975 I returned to London to work on the Council’s first Paid Educational Project, with Venezeula. Prior to then, all the Council’s work had been Government or Agency funded. I returned to the Cambridge Office for a few years to buy a house, the highlight there being working with Malcolm Bradbury on the annual English Studies Seminar. Back in London, I was a Regional Officer in Europe Division, working mainly on policy and planning for Poland and Yugoslavia, and latterly also with Bulgaria and Albania. It was an exciting time being so closely involved in the old East Europe from 1984 to 1993 and spending time there.
What assisted me most in these postings was the ability I’d acquired to be concise and to the point, separating the wheat from the chaff, particularly when writing reports and secretarying lengthy Mixed Commissions and Cultural Talks.
The Council was stripped out in 1993 so I took early retirement. What to do? I worked part-time with Emmaus on their future planning while studying for the OU Diploma in Management, taking business French classes and embarking on learning German which I still enjoy. From 1996 until 2008 I helped set up, and was Company Secretary for my close friend’s computer software business, keeping his accounts and preparing all the IR and VAT returns.
Do I ever regret interrupting my career to spend three years reading English at Lucy Cavendish? No. It provided me with the perhaps unique opportunity Cambridge provides through its Library and the stimulating people one can meet and listen to and learn from formally and informally which broadened my mind and made me forever an “enquirer” and researcher.
Lucy Cavendish was the catalyst in the opening of my mind and the development of it intellectually and for this I shall be forever grateful.