YESTERDAY (first published by Walker Books in 1992) is a memoir I wrote of my days at Oxford between 1963 and 1966.
(The only thing you need to know is that ‘Michael’ refers to my then (not terribly serious on his part) boyfriend, who was at Cambridge.)
I was allowed an afternoon off from school to go to town and buy myself a suit for the interviews [at Oxford and Cambridge] My mother, who has wonderful taste, was far away in what had been renamed Tanzania, and left to my own devices, I ended up with a soberly-cut affair: straight skirt (straight skirts are slimming, aren't they?) and plainish jacket (didn't all magazines advocate simplicity, the classic, timeless elegance...blah-de-blah?) but in an eye-blistering emerald green with all the subtlety of plastic grass. Well, I thought, green suits me. Looking back, I can see that I must have seemed like an extra from a bad production of Finian's Rainbow, but at the time I sincerely thought I was knocking them for six with my stunning apparel.
I bought myself some cigarettes at the station on the way to each of my interviews. I felt grown-up. I read through my French and Spanish textbooks on the train, making sure the covers were visible to everyone. I wanted all the other passengers to know where I was off to, to realize what an exceptional person was travelling with them. No one even looked at me, of course. To them I was just a podgy schoolgirl in a pea-pod of a suit.
Of my Oxford interview, more than anything I remember the bells, ringing out from this tower and that all through the night. The room I stayed in was in a building called Hall, which looked out on to the river. I liked St Hilda’s immediately. There was a wonderful sweeping staircase in Hall, and the rooms were high-ceilinged and quiet, and everyone else at the interview seemed friendly. I met a girl called Helen, who was from London and looked clever. How do you look clever? Well, you are thin and intense, and having dark hair helps and the finishing touch is purple smudges under your eyes. It’s hard to appear a diamond-sharp intellectual with a chubby round face and rosy cheeks.
Helen and I walked round Oxford, and I fell in love. Nothing had prepared me for the physical beauty of the town. I walked around with my mouth open and my neck twisted round, trying to take in everything at once. By the time we got back to College for supper, I’d decided. This was where I wanted to be, and so much so that I’d have been very upset if I’d had to go to Cambridge or RADA instead.
Michael was unflatteringly philosophical when I told him I wouldn’t be going to Cambridge after all…… I had been awarded a Scholarship, (and so had Helen) and was therefore entitled to wear the long, black Scholar's gown. I thought I would look dashing and striking.
I sent a telegram to my parents with the good news, and found it carefully folded into my father’s papers after his death ten years later. My mother told me it had remained stuck in the frame of his shaving mirror for months.