Part 3 of A Bit of This, and A Bit of That – Remembering 1978

Just in case you wish to catch up on the background to this story, you can find part one here, and part two here.

Fitted up with a car each, Wendy and I left Wolverhampton and headed off in different directions, with promises to “write soon”.

I had a friend of a friend who was a university student in Leeds. I’ve lost contact with him over the years, but no doubt he had an illustrious career as he was a promising student, civil engineering I believe. We had an interesting conversation in the local cafe one night, when I demonstrated I knew what a macadamised road was by utilising the sugar bowl, and he looked politely surprised. Goodness knows where I’d acquired that trivia.  Anyway, he was brilliant, he even wrote a book while he was still in his twenties – about mathematics I think.

I’d been to Leeds the month before on a weekend visit to him, and I wrote home to my mum about my surprise at the city. It was nothing like what my childhood readings of northern mill towns had led me to believe, but then, if you are brought up on a diet of Dickens, you are hardly likely to imagine picturesque places. So I commented that there had been a recent clean up campaign, and that the mixture of old and modern architecture was pleasant, great shopping, plenty of walking streets and so on. I reserved my greatest surprise for the discovery that only fifteen minutes drive from the city one found oneself amidst rolling green hills dotted with wooden beamed country pubs containing log fires and exuding charm and atmosphere.

With this image fresh in my mind, Leeds is where I headed next. When I arrived at the YWCA I discovered it was packed with university students. My student friend came to the rescue. Two of his classmates put me up on their couch for a couple of nights while I found a job and bed of my own.

I turned up at a temp agency the next morning, and the interview went something like, ‘we have a job for an audio typist at a local solicitor.’ To which I replied, ‘I can’t audio type,’ and they said, ‘you’ll be perfect for the job.’ Which I was, it turns out, although filing was not my star turn.

(Side Note: Remember those ridiculous job interviews where you had to answer “What do you like most/least about your job?” It didn’t matter how senior I became, I always answered filing for what I liked least – in the vain hope someone would do it for me.)

The solicitor I was typing for, Nigel Dixon, was a wonderful man and even invited me home to dinner with his family. Two weeks ago I had a photo of him, but I seem to have mislaid it in the study clean up. I’d been hesitating putting it up in any case, on privacy grounds, until I found this article on him in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner. It’s about him having taken up performing in musical theatre in his retirement!

My problem was accommodation. I found a tiny bed-sit, 4′ x 8′, in an attic room with no heating. Some days the temperature struggled to reach 2’C (35F). Sunrise – such as it was – occurred around 8-8.30am and the day was pitch black by 3.45pm. The house was in Headingley, close to the famous home of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club, which might have been nice, if I could see it through the fog. Some days the fog was so thick I couldn’t see the bus from twenty feet away. I had a little two-bar radiator that I had to keep running by dropping 20 pence coins in an electricity meter. Whirrrr – clunk – I heard that sound every few minutes as the inefficient heating churned through my hard earned dosh. I was cold . . . very, very, cold – but the worst thing of all was that the Yorkshire Ripper was on the loose. I loved my job , despite the lousy pay, but I began to feel lonely, vulnerable, and very sorry for myself.

So, even though the law firm offered me a permanent job, and even though the switch-lady was kind enough to invite me to hers for Christmas lunch, I decided to apply for some jobs where I might be able to feel more settled. And that is how my path led to Michael’s Nook Country House Retreat in Grasmere in the English Lake District – one the best beauty spots in England.

And that is when the fun and games really began . . . more in the next post.

20 thoughts on “Part 3 of A Bit of This, and A Bit of That – Remembering 1978

  1. I loved reading about your solicitor boss reigniting his love of performing after he retired. I was put in an attic room in Glasgow with a drafty skylight although the heating was good and I didn’t have a meter. I had warm pjs, a thick quilt and a fleecy blanket. That Yorkshire Ripper thing would have concerned me too walking around on my own.

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    • I was very intrigued to read his story too. I was tempted to try to reach out to him. He was a lovely man. Aaargh, cold attics! We don’t even have them in most Australian homes. That first winter in England was a challenge for which I was not prepared, but I survived :-),

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  2. Pingback: An Introduction to Michael’s Nook Country House Retreat | The Reluctant Retiree

  3. So remember the cold, fog, slot meters for power when I had a bedsit in Cornwall in the early 60’s. Now I have the easy, happy life in Australia those memories seem WORSE than ever!!!

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    • Yes, we are certainly living the life, aren’t we? But of course, having experienced the grimmer times, we can appreciate what we have so much more than others who may take it for granted. All the same, a few rainy days wouldn’t go astray, don’t you think?

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  4. Oh my you were a single girl travelling round and living in the Leeds area in 1978. The girl opposite where I lived went off to Leeds University in 1978 and everybody was so worried because of the Yorkshire Ripper. There had already been four murders in Leeds by 1978 hadn’t there and more across the region and no sign of the police catching anybody. Do you remember how you felt, did it change how you behaved?

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    • It left a deep enough impression on me that I still remember the connection today. And it seems that I wasn’t going out a night – was that because I had no friends outside of that one uni guy, or because I was afraid? Might have simply been I didn’t have an overcoat and it was freezing! I was stuck up in that attic room with no interaction with my landlord and his family who lived in the main part of the house. I didn’t stay long in Leeds though, as I mentioned in the post, I WAS feeling vulnerable and lonely. If I had been one of his victims, I wouldn’t have left much trace; although I imagine my employer would have raised the alarm.

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  5. I think the compulsory excursion to England back then was the making of so many Australians. Unfortunately in 1972/3 I did not have a work permit and so ended up using all my savings. But I had fun.
    And because these blogs of ours seem to bounce off each other I will soon post a story about searching for a job in Cornwall. Thanks for opening up the memory bank.

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    • Yes, I was telling Charlotte Hoather that it was almost a “right of passage”. I learnt a lot more in my years in Europe than I would in university. I guess you didn’t have your teaching qualifications then, as the UK was crying out for exchange teachers. My cousin was one. . . . So glad I have given you inspiration. I am miles behind on reading your posts, I have quite a few sitting in my email box.

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