|The Matlock Years||
It started with Rockwood - that large fire risk on the hill that we came to love so much. My very first memory is of Christine my neighbour (can't remember her second name, but had arthritis, loved to watch Fame and ate everyone's biscuits) coming into my room and saying "so you must be the mature student". Nice. By and large we had a good group on the corridor - can't remember everyone, but from the kitchen&bathroom there was Caroline Gell, Me, Christine and then Karen Butteriss. Across there was Sue Stansfield, Beverley Ryan, Lynn Averill, Claire ? (and her roommate?) and Lisa ?. Lots of "silliness" ensued, from bum races along the corridor, breaking into rooms to make apple-pie beds and hide things etc! Fiona Flynn lived in the room opposite the corridor with Maria. Fiona was a little "scary" at first. I remember one incident when someone phoned for her - the phones were at the bottom of Rockside and so someone had to come up several flights of stairs to tell her. When she got down, it was just in time to see this guy putting the receiver down. By all accounts she lifted the poor sod off his feet with one hand and pinned him to a wall. Undoubtedly she was strong and became a first rate Stage Manager - and we all did as we were told! Our first big get together was the Halloween party we held - we had crepe paper streamers and things tied around the lights (never mind the fire risk). I think this was probably the first time I met both Julia Winter and Jerry King, as they were both music students and friends of Beverley and Sue. Music at the party was mostly (unfortunately) Wham and Ghostbusters!
A few of us (I think we were the Music Society - Jerry was President and I was Vice President) started to sing (and I use the term loosely) in the local pub on Smedley Street in return for sandwiches, which sounds a bit pathetic but was good fun at the time -except when the other Jane started singing Norwegian Wood . I also got involved in the Drama group - which seeing as I was studying drama (at that time with Mike Bonsall) , seemed a good idea. Yvonne Mycock who was in charge was brilliant and in the first term we put on a production of Find Me by Olwyn Wymark in which I played a psychiatrist. By this time I knew Martin Gately from Drama and Alison Broome - who introduced me to Sarah Holmes , Liz Dodd, Davina Callen and Jan. It was a great play - although for some scenes we had to get into position in the dark. My chair was really near the audience (we played it in the round). On the first public performance the lights went up and my Mum was sitting a foot in front of me and I spent the next 10 minutes trying to stare over her head !
Although Karen was a year ahead of us (as were Julia and Sue), we became good friends. When we weren't in lessons, the pub, drama etc we were generally in someone's room drinking coffee and eating copious amounts of biscuits. I used to sit on Karen's bed and pull the feathers from her eiderdown (which was perhaps marginally better than destroying her nice cane chair). She had befriended Tim Sander, who also knew Jerry, and they both became regular visitors - although they were spared the readings of Mrs. Pepperpot or George's Marvelous Medicine (we were Karen's guinea pigs for her teaching practice) - although we rather enjoyed the latter.
At Christmas we decorated the corridor in the theme of Snow White and Severn Dwarves - although another Rockside corridor won the prize for Snoopy's wonderland (lots of cotton wool on strings). We had a candlelit carol service in Rockside Hall -although I don't think anyone dare tell the Fire Station!!!! Remember those fire drills - I do. The b****y bell was right outside my room. Also, as I am as blind as a bat without my lens, I couldn't see a thing, but stumbled my way outside. We did contemplate trying the trap door route once, but decided against it!
The musical for that year was to be Anything Goes - suffice to say it put me off musicals for life! Sarah was going to play the photographer, but became ill early on and spent a lot of time away. The rest of us practised ridiculous dance routines and songs such as "Blow, Gabriel, Blow". When Sarah returned to her room , I went to visit her and discovered she liked Vivaldi, so I lent her my Four Seasons. Unfortunately, Sarah decided to play it ad nauseum which drove her neighbour downstairs, Julia, mad and had her banging on the ceiling (not that Sarah could hear through the music).
Most of us had mad moments. Julia had more than most (probably still does). She would do very little for a long time, and then spend days and nights writing essays until she looked like a ghost and collapsed on the nearest bed. She would go for walks at night to Lumsdale and had a love life so complex it made our heads spin - but life was never dull with Julia around. I recall that there had been rumours of a stalker around Rockside (someone had jumped out at Davina). Some of the guys even turned vigilante for a time. Then Julia became hysterical when someone (and I quote) "threw a brick" through her window. The warden called the police, statements were made - only to discover that the "brick" was a 1" pebble (more like grit). Julia was unabashed and claimed that around Walsall , that's what they called a brick. More likely it was someone trying to catch her attention who legged it after it broke the window (although no-one owned up).
I met Clare Evitt initially through American Studies. She wasn't living in halls , but in digs down the road in Tansley - so she used to arrive for her lessons in wellies and toting large bags and a flask . A bit like a hippy bag lady! We soon used to spend more time with her and I remember a group of us going to her 21st birthday party - we sat on the garden steps whilst Karen massaged my head (I had a thumping headache) and Tim passed his usual droll comments. Because she lived a distance away, Clare often used to dump her bags (and sometimes herself) in our rooms - but she became a good friend and we realised that we both knew the same geologist guy (John) who lived in Leyden in Holland (see below).
Live Aid was also in that year and naturally we all wanted to do things in order to raise money for the cause. We could pay the Phantom Flan Flinger to shove a custard pie in someone's face. You never knew when they would strike, but most victims took it in good part as it was for charity. However, Mike Bonsall didn't see the funny side and stormed out of the lesson (oops!). Some had trolley races around the park , parachute jumps and a few of us in Rockside decided we would do a weeks fasting. Bit of a stupid idea this, but we did stick it out for a good part of the week by living on milk (which some smart a**e decided was food anyway!). We celebrated by feasting on bean toasties! This was the usual fare after going to the pub/students union bar of an evening. Well, lets face it the food wasn't up to much, was it. I think I spent the first year living off cheese salads, coffee and biscuits and Guinness - oh and chips from the chippy near the steps on Wellington Street. The choice was even worse if you were a veggie - as Martin pointed out to the "chef". On asking for a pizza, a frozen object which looked vaguely like a pizza was thrown into the deep fat fryer before being dumped greasily and unceremoniously on a plate. The look on Martin's face was a picture (not sure if he ate it though!).
I haven't mentioned many of the lecturers yet (apart from Mike Bonsall and Yvonne Mycock). Don and Joan Measham lived near the end of Cavendish Road. Don taught English and was Head of Department and Joan taught American Studies. Bob Windsor also taught English (he was the fanciable older man - Sarah used to go into raptures about what he did with his legs!!) and was a real inspiration. Alisdair Keane also taught American Studies and was a real sweetie (apart from one nasty incident with the Phantom Flan Flinger in which most of us were culpable). Tony Rees was another English teacher, who was a bit of an odd bod at times , always nipping off for "refreshments" in lessons and enjoying seeing students attempting to sit comfortably in a collapsed armchair in his room (your chin would literally be on your knees!). There was also Ros (cannot remember her second name) who was ever so slightly eccentric but great fun. These particular lecturers could mostly be found at lunchtimes frequenting the seating in one window of the Duke of Wellington pub. I know this because my group tended to be on the other side! Don ,Tony and later Bob were also editors of the local Poetry and Prose magazine, Staple (which. they started in 1982 and is still published to this day).
As part of the Combined Studies degree , apart from our own subjects, we all had to attend group lectures on what I can only describe as being like my daughters citizenship classes (cannot for the life of me remember what it was called - boring probably!). One particular session we were put into groups and we had to come up with a talk, or presentation on something or other. We just got terribly silly and went into Python-mode. Our group therefore did "There's a little green eyed Buddha..." (was this Martin and Carol?), and sang both the Philosophers Drinking Song and the Lumberjacks song (Jerry wearing my black bra) - all of which was roundly condemned by Don Measham and co - not that we gave a damn. However, at least we got to go on trips to Sikh temples etc (we usually had the coach driver who was addicted to Abba) and the mill at Lumsdale, which became a firm favourite of ours for walks.
I think it was Karen who introduced us to the Wishing Stone. In essence, this was a large lump of rock near to the goat track (and at the back of a small estate of modern houses) to Lumsdale, which if you climbed on top of, closed your eyes and turned around three times (without falling off) and then made a wish (usually not to fall off), it supposedly would come true. Yeh right. Whatever, you could get a good view of Lumsdale from it and Lynn found a small clump of four leaf clovers growing nearby!1985-6
Of course, not being first years anymore we had to find digs, so on returning in the autumn we found ourselves scattered around the locality. Karen had spent the summer sharing a flat on Smedley Street with Tim and Jerry, but went to live with Jo in Bonsall (or near to it) and the boys lived way out in the sticks. Julia, being in her last year was still in Rockside. I had found a flat in Knowleston Place (next to the park in Matlock Green) which I shared with Lynn Averill and Sarah, Clare, Davina, Jan and Liz lived in Matlock Bath. Martin lived with Claire above the butchers shop at the top of Bank Road, which we all thought was funny as they were both veggies!!
I had started going out with "Geologist John" (as Julia called him), who lived in London and who came up most weekends and wore long boots which others thought strange and bizarre (well, they were a bit). Because Lynn and I lived in town, we soon became a dropping in place for coffee. The downside was the flat was ridiculously cold - I kid you not, my breath used to freeze on my duvet. The upside was that no germs could live, so we were flu-free for much of the winter!
After a weird affair with a Welshman (I think his name was Gerard and he wore pointy shoes), Julia started going out with her own John (Kendrick) who knew her from back home and at Christmas Karen met Mike and they were engaged soon after - as was Julia. We still spent a lot of time with Julia as she always welcomed distractions from work. I remember dragging her around various quarries on a cold, wet and windy day for a project I was doing. Although she complained a lot, she cheered up later in the pub. She never offered to come with me again though. I didn't see much of Karen anymore - although she did visit Lynn at the flat and Julia. I think she had taken umbrage over a few words we'd had in the summer when I had visited Smedley Street (those who knew us then will know to what I am alluding!!).
I enjoyed drama still, particularly as we now had lessons in the old chapel on Bank Road and got to mess around with studio cameras. We were also using the drama studio to put on other plays. As part of the course, we had decided on a Sue Townsend play called Womberang which was about a waiting room in a hospital. It was okay, and I played a pregnant woman who went into labour whilst waiting. This was fun as I had a cushion up my dress and a fairy liquid bottle full of water between my thighs for when my waters broke (realism is everything you understand!). A group of drama students led by Chris (?) and Jan decided to put on another of her plays Bazaar and Rummage - ostensibly about a group of three agoraphobics - I seem to remember Sarah, Max and Alison as being the leads, and I think Jan may also have been in it. Later that year was a production of Midsummer Nights Dream - the acting was so-so, but the highlight was when Puck, played by Alison, was late turning up for her last lines (the last lines in the play) because she was playing table tennis in the adjoining hall! (Fiona was not pleased).
In the summer, Karen got married to Mike Hanson whilst Jerry played Bridge Over Troubled Water on the organ (mmmm) - she looked lovely and everyone was so happy for her. Julia was in full-on wedding mode and into selecting china etc whilst worrying if she would change her mind at the altar (just like Julia).
At Easter time Julia and Sue Stansfield came to the flat for a fondue dinner party with myself and Lynn. Unfortunately I didn't have the right ingredients , so we made the fondue with cheese (okay so far), dry martini with liberal dashes of several liqueurs all heated up into a bubbling mass and served with bread. Needless to say it didn't last long and its the first and only time I have had a hang over from cheese fondue (Julia fell of her chair - twice!). After Easter Lynn and I had to leave the flat as we only had it for 6 months (it had been promised to someone else for the summer). Lynn I think went to stay with a friend on her course (she was doing BEd) and I managed to get a room in Cavendish, next door to Cheryl Thomas. However, I managed to secure the flat for the next year and as Lynn decided she would stay put, I promised the other room to Clare who was fed up with living so far away.
On returning to Matlock in the autumn of '86, Clare was late returning from her travels and Sarah moved in with me for a short time before going back into halls. Alison and Liz (not sure about Davina) lived temporarily downstairs until they found a house just off Steep Turnpike. Jerry, Jo and Tim had found a cottage near Matlock Green and Jan, who had given birth to a little boy, was living with her partner on the Chesterfield Road.
If I thought Julia's love life was complex, this was nothing to living with Clare (as I soon found out). After she had moved in I discovered that she was seeing a guy who worked at a greengrocers . It soon ended - but we used to get bags of stuff from him! Then there was the musical instrument maker who lived on Wellington Street. I could go on. Clare and I got on well, partially because she was as wacky as me. Lynn was lovely and a good friend, but was too easily shocked. You couldn't say that about Clare. John the Geologist and I had parted company that summer - after a memorable trip to Ireland which I would have considered magical if I hadn't had a complete bastard in tow . Enough was enough.
During term time Clare and I were invited for a house warming party by Jerry, Jo and Tim. It was good fun (except when Clare threatened to do weird things with a bowl of water). Strange thing is that all through the evening Jerry kept going on and on about "him and Mrs. King" . I must have been going through my dense period (as Tim was quick to point out - as usual) as I didn't cotton on to the fact that this was Jerry's subtle way of telling everyone that Jo and he were engaged. Not sure if I ever congratulated them (if not, a belated congratulations you two!).
We settled well into the flat and had even more visitors than before and out of college times we got into a routine of dinner then pub (with Liz, Alison and Davina usually). Sarah was now seeing Martin, so consequently we didn't see too much of her except in classes or occasionally in Rockside.
At the end of the term, Mike Bonsall decided to move to pastures new and in his place we got a temporary drama teacher, David Lawton, who had just finished an MA in Renaissance Drama at Warwick University (a course which I was later to do myself). To say he was laid back was probably an understatement - plus he had the same black humour as most of us and was still in student-mode.
In February we gathered in Pelsall for Julia's wedding. I found it hard to believe that she was actually getting married - but there she was resplendent in white the next day and many of her friends were there to witness it, including Karen who was a bridesmaid. Unfortunately there was also sad news around this time when Liz's mum died of breast cancer. Liz had known her mum was dying since before Christmas, but it was still a shock to us all. When she returned after the funeral she seemed remarkably brave, but I think we all knew how much she must be hurting and felt particularly protective of her.
Back in Matlock I was preparing for my 30th birthday party. Clare started drinking the red wine a little early and had downed 1.5 litres before too long and had to go to the off licence in town for another bottle (or two). By the time the guests arrived, she was a little worse for wear and the room was beginning to spin. However, after we administered copious amounts of water she soon recovered. A good time was had by all, and by the next morning there were still a few hangers on left - including David who had drunk the best part of a bottle of scotch (as well as wine!).
Studies were beginning to encroach on our busy social lives. In English we had been given various topics to research on the theme of D. H. Lawrence by Tony Rees. It was only part way through that we realised that this was the subject of his MA - and he was using our work for part of it!! By this time, I had dropped American Studies to concentrate on English and Drama , and had decided to continue my studies to MA level. After talking to David about the course at Warwick, I applied and was provisionally offered a place for October that year. All I had to do was get a good grade . However, there were further distractions away from study and as David had decided to spend most of his week in Matlock (he lived in Coventry) it wasn't long before we became an item.
In drama I was involved in two plays in that year . The class decided to put on a piece based on (loosely) the women in Shakespeare's plays and called it Shakespeare's Woman - although we also included part of a morality play (with Adam and Eve, the Snake (me) and God (Fiona, standing on a chair!) and Max and I doing a scene from Agamemnon/Cleopatra - she as Cleopatra and me as the raving Clytemnestra, complete with dagger. To complete the trio of psycho's , I also played Lady Macbeth. I particularly remember Sarah, Colette and Michelle doing an excellent witch scene from Macbeth - they really entered into the spirit of it (scary). Martin, as the token male in the group, played Angelo from Measure for Measure in chains (and much more of course). Later that term the drama group also put on Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo with David as the anarchist. The rest of the cast were mostly second year drama students, and Fiona and I were stage managers. Interestingly, Fiona who had been mostly a loner for much of our time in Matlock, seemed to come out of her shell in the last year and turned out to be great fun.
We also had the final presentations for Applied studies (there you go, I knew I'd remember it!). There were some good ideas, and some bizarre ones. Clare did the life of Billie Holiday , Martin showed videos of The Prisoner plus stuff on Portmerion where it was filmed in the 60's. Sarah and Davina got together to produce a book of poetry and photographs which was really good. Paul Smith did a display of weird photographs, had a model of an Indian chief and played music - none of which made sense and got an A! I did a history of quarrying in the area, laying emphasis on what it was doing to the environment (remember the photograph trip I had taken with Julia!). Perhaps in hindsight the addition of a taped rendition of me warbling a folk song on quarrying was a mistake.
The end of course exams seem to a be a blur now - needless to say we spent a lot of time in the Duke of Wellington after each session! Clare, I and some others decided not to go the Graduation dinner but instead held a party at Ecclestone Place, which became very lively later on due to others who had been to the dinner turning up. I remember getting up next morning to find Colette asleep at the side of the bed and everyone else still there! Someone was making mugs of coffee in the kitchen as I stepped over bodies - but it seemed a fitting end to everything.
At the close of 1987 after we had said goodbye to all we had known for the last 3 years, the only real sadness (apart from leaving everyone) was that the college was due to close the year after and that its future was unknown. Clare went to live for a time near Riber before getting a job as a nanny in Italy . Karen and Mike were living in Elton and Tim had a place on Smedley Street. Fiona Flynn joined Securicor (!) and David got a permanent teaching job in Pontypool. I went to stay with Julia and John in Pelsall for a week in the summer before going to Warwick University to do an MA. We were all scattered and embarking on different things but what was certain was that we had changed from the people who entered the college in 1984 - I like to believe mostly for the better.