Hungover the next morning, it was decision time. I’d met the offers for Newcastle University and North Staffordshire Polytechnic, but didn’t know what to do. I had avoided thinking about it all summer long and just enjoyed myself. Now I had the grades, the pressure was on to get a degree. I applied for Classics and History degrees because I couldn’t think of anything else. I didn’t have a clue about what I wanted to do job-wise.
Dad explained these were “Exciting times,” but I felt confused. I didn’t want to go to University, not yet anyway. I needed to get some work experience and then decide my next steps. But it fell on deaf ears. I was about to leave home. That much was clear. I had no control over my life and was told to go to University, “Now or never.” Reluctantly and against my better judgement, I was going to University.
The interview I attended at Newcastle University almost a year before was in an uninviting, traditional red brick building overlooking well-kept gardens. On the third floor, I waited in an oak-panelled corridor with some undergraduates who were assigned to keep the waiting interviewees occupied. When it was my turn, I went alone through a large, wooden door and peered inside. There were shelves on both sides filled with dusty old books. The room was enormous.
I looked around and thought, ‘Where the fuck are the interviewers?’
“Come over here Mr Stanford,” a distant voice bounced off the oak.
There was a big desk at the far end of the room in front of oversized neo-gothic windows cascading light over four silhouetted tutors. They sat impassively in the distance. There were a good twenty metres between us, so I set off toward the small, rickety chair before the desk. The crack of my heels was accompanied by the creak of old floorboards as the academics stared silently like faceless, archaic statues.
After sitting down, I was asked a lot of questions about various ancient battles, philosophers, architecture and poems. Most I could answer to some extent or another, but there was one convoluted question, the subject of which escaped me then as it does now. I sat there, thinking, ‘Should I stall and ask him to repeat the question?’ There didn’t seem much point, so I was honest and replied, “Sorry, I don’t know what you’re on about.” Apart from that glitch, the interview went quite well and I was offered BCD for my A-level results, which was exactly what I got.