Dreaming Spires, or Nightmares?

Two interesting things in the Guardian today. First, visit Media Guardian if you feel so inclined and you’ll have the opportunity to vote for Classic vs Nu Who. At the moment, Nu is winning by a narrow margin. Also, if you search for DW you’ll probably be surprised how many links come up. I was always under the impression that The Times was the most Who-friendly of the heavier English papers, but perhaps not?

More seriously, Tanya Gold has bravely described her abject misery as a student at Oxford University around 10 years ago. This is completely anecdotal, of course, and already the backlash is building on the blogs, but I recognised so many of the same experiences from my own brief time at one of the least glamorous women’s colleges (yes, they still had them in those days) back in 1977.

How very very sad. I remember being attracted to Oxford as a place that resisted change. At the time, being young and naive, I was traumatised by the way my beloved grammar school was being carved up under a grudgingly implemented abolition of selective education in a Conservative local authority. I actually wanted to go somewhere that would stay static. Now I see the disadvantages of this.

Okay, many of my own difficulties had far more to do with my domestic situation as an over-protected only child from a very humble background – and the fact that my widowed mum fell apart on the night before I left, after telling me for the past 18 years that I’d be gloriously happy at university because it would be full of clever people like me. (Since she’d had to leave school at 14, I assume this information was gleaned by heresay). Tearful phone calls home became a daily ritual, and the tears weren’t all on my side by any means. I was torn between wanting to settle and do well, and worrying myself sick about her.

I’ve been over-identifying with Rose Tyler ever since 2005…but at least she had someone to look after her when she left home.

I did eventually make a go of things and had a happy time at York University, but I carried around that sense of failure, having lasted a mere 3 weeks at Oxford, for the rest of my life. Getting married to a Cambridge graduate possibly didn’t help. I now feel a little vindicated by Gold’s remarks, and also by the experience of some of my son’s contemporaries who have struggled at Oxford themselves.

One experience really sticks in my mind. I went up to Oxford by train, alone, and it never occurred to me that there was another way of doing things. Over 20 years later I visited the city, coincidentally at the start of the new academic year. Seeing parents settling students in seemed to twist a knife in my guts and made me realise how alone I’d been. After that I judged myself less harshly and resolved that, no matter how conflicted my feelings may be, I would do my utmost not to inflict them on my own children when they leave home for college. On the whole, I don’t approve of emotional subterfuge, but in that particular situation I think they’ll have enough on their plate without worrying about me.


One thought on “Dreaming Spires, or Nightmares?

  1. I sympathize. I stumbled repeatedly at university and was stressed and miserable almost the whole time. I’d been told my whole life that that was where I would blossom, and my family expected me to excel, but I struggled to even complete my degree.
    My entire extended family are all academics, and the university environment feels cozy to me, but participating in it absolutely did not suit me. I think, in a way, I took it all too seriously, believing that having the correct opinion about a work of literature really mattered in some objective sense. I wasn’t capable of turning in essays I knew were bad or derivative. It’s a wonder I got anything done.

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