Standing outside the train station on London Road, I thought about finally leaving home as I gazed thoughtfully the skyline of Leicester. ‘Whatever happens, I’m not coming to this shit-hole’.
Despite having a miserable time, culminating in an unsuccessful attempt to join the Post Office, I completed 3 years of Sixth Form. Age 19. Oldest pupil at school. I could finally get-the-hell-out-of-there.
Careerwise, I was clueless. I applied to higher education courses that were general in nature. To keep my options open. That was the theory at least.
Finally leaving home – Interviews
My interview at a college near Leeds went well but I had value-based reservations. It was a faith-based institution (Catholic). Would I, a non-believer, fit in? Did I even want to fit in?
Wailing, self-flagellating monks aside, there were no overt signs that this was a faith-based institution. The glossy brochure gushed that the College ‘now accepts anyone sympathetic to the Christian ideals’. Raised in a healthily non-religious family, I couldn’t do it. I declined their offer.
In Sheffield, at my brother’s house for one night, I sampled two essential aspects of student life. Grotty accommodation – freezing cold with snail trails crisscrossing the kitchen floor – and cheap booze. I front up at the interview the next day with a filthy hangover.
Finally leaving home – A Level Results
A teacher read my A-Level results over the phone. They were very bad. Worse than expected. I didn’t meet the requirements of any of my offers. My only option was to go into Clearing. The bargain basement of higher education. Like a Mark and Spencer underwear sale, you set aside your dignity, roll up your sleeves and rummage around in the leftovers. Looking for something that near-enough fits. Undersubscribed courses higher education institutions need to fill.
I staked my future on the uninspiring Higher National Diploma in Public Administration. A 2-year course at Leicester…
Under the circumstances (terrible grades) I was pleased to get in anywhere. I was finally leaving home to taste student life.
Finally leaving home – arriving in Leicester
I was still self-conscious about my arm. Carrying it with my hand in my pocket was most comfortable.
It worked. I could pass as an able-bodied person. Good in some ways but the other side of that coin is the embarrassment later. When the truth came out. Usually when shaking hands or ask for help to carry a large round of drinks. The strategy for my arrival in Leicester was to wear a sling for the first week or two. ‘What happened to the arm?’ would be the first question. Issue dealt with.
This had a downside too. Wearing a sling is usually for a temporary injury. A broken wrist or collarbone. Breaking the news that my injury is permanently left them stunned. Speechless. Cue tumbleweed.
More positively, I was able to incorporate the sling into my outfit for the sponsored-3-legged-fancy-dress-pub-crawl. I was a bloodied patient helped along by my friend Alice, dressed as a nurse. We made the pages of the local newspaper, The Leicester Mercury.
Finally leaving home – the night we were assaulted
Life in Leicester was largely spent in a bubble. Student campus, student bars, nightclubs on student night. After a year in halls of residence I moved into a shared house with my friend Graham. Our first weekend back after the summer break, we met friends at the student union bar.
We walked home down quiet, deserted terraced streets. Nearby, a passing car slowed to walking pace. Four big men stared at us. ‘That’s a worry’ I said. Understated. ‘Just keep walking’ Graham said. Relief was short-lived when the car sped off. Further down the street all four men got out and began walking towards us. Alpha male brainless swagger signalled danger. A fun Saturday night for these guys was bashing students. We were tonight’s victims.
There was nowhere to hide. Graham knocked on the door of the nearest house. Pretending we knew the occupants. ‘You don’t know anyone there!’ One of them grunted. These gorillas were smarter than they looked.
One lunged forward. Knocking Graham to the ground with a punch to the face. Blood poured down his chin. Panicked, I grabbed the back of his collar and pulled him to his feet. ‘Fucking run Graham!’ I screamed. We did. As fast as we could.
We were easily too fast for three of them. The youngest was more determined. He chased us for a few hundred meters. He was fast but couldn’t catch us. Fueled by adrenaline and fear.
Finally leaving home – as fast as my broken legs would carry me!
A casual observer would have been impressed with my rehabilitation. Only a few years earlier I’d had two broken legs. My speed was a tribute to the physiotherapists.
We hid in bushes to catch our breath. Graham mopped the blood from his face with his handkerchief. We waited for about 30 minutes, to be sure they’d gone. If they found us on those terraced streets again, with nowhere to hide, we were in big trouble.
The following week, Graham and I signed up for martial arts classes. Fortunately, we never needed to use the deadly skills we learned.
I never fell in love with Leicester but I had a great time, with many boozy nights. More importantly, I made enduring friendships that are still with me today. Together we’ve experienced travel, buying houses, weddings, divorces, births and too many bereavements. Good and bad, these are precious times that can be traced back to the arbitrary choice I made in the academic bargain basement.
This post is part of a series. Want to catch up? Go to A Sudden Blinding Flash – the night I was hit by a car