In 1972 I went up to University to read Philosophy and Physics. it was a bit an indulgence at the time but has proved more than useful in later life. They are of course the foundation disciplines in the Humanities and Sciences, whatever the mathematicians say. It was a period where you could indulge yourself in higher education as a job of some type was more or less guaranteed and all your living costs and fees were covered by the State, subject to some minimal means-testing. At that time Lancaster and Aberystwyth were the only two to offer that as joint honours so I refused the Head Master’s desire to take the offer from Imperial College or accept a community contribution scholarship to Oxford to read physics in both cases. I was good at physics but I loved philosophy more or maybe I really enjoyed a good argument; we had debated at school winning a competition or two and the impromptu speech was always my favourite competition at the annual Eisteddfod. Also, Lancaster was a modern University, one of the plate-glass period of expansion under the Wilson Government. The reference is the building style, the earlier period being red-brick and the earliest old stone. it was on a hill pursued of town, it had a major occupation in a student protest a couple of years before and we were always looking to the revolutions of the 1960s in those days. So it seemed perfect and it more or less was in the four years I was there: three for my degree and one as a sabbatical officer.
Lancaster was then a collegiate university with teaching and accomdation intermixed. I applied for and got into Country College the banner picture) with allowed residence for the entire three years which seemed a good idea. Freshers week saw me join the Labour Party and the House of Debates. To my lasting regret, I didn’t join the Ramblers Club as it met on a Sunday and I knew I would be occupied with the Chaplaincy Centre. Some years before in the first year sixth and I went on a course on wave mechanics which was not then a part of A-Levels. It was run by an evangelical group using high-grade science teachers. So you learned about science during the day and argued about religion in the evening. I then got invited back to a week of just the evening sessions and fell for it undergoing a religious experience which I still hold to be genuine. Either way, I went from being an opinionated atheist to a proselytizing Baptist in short order before seeing the error of my ways shifting to the Church in Wales for a late Confirmation. That meant at I joined the Anglican Chaplaincy under Paul Warren Later I would shift to Roman Catholicism and daily mass in the catholic chaplaincy under Fr Brian Nobel became a key aspect of my life. Most afternoons were spent having tea in the chaplaincy and the events saw the evenings saw the chaplaincy cafe become a major social center or the bar in Country or Bowland if political meetings were underway.
I was politically active in the College, in the Broad Left (via the Labour Party) and in the Chaplaincy itself. Some of that created a conflict; my first girlfriend Lorna Reith, until recently a councilor in North London, left me distraught for months after she abandoned me for someone more purely political. And that after I had taken her home, got parental approval and spend a lot of time hitchhiking up to her relatives in Scotland and family in London. The House of Debates provided some solace and I rose to be Convenor of Debates, taking over at the last minute from any speaker who didn’t turn up. That was a fair honour as you had to be quick and your feet and have an intuition for savage irony to survive. That started a near lifetime of travel and polemic as if you were any good you were invited to travel to other Universities to debate with alcohol and other expense met by the host union. Memorable trips to Glasgow, Leeds, Coleraine and many others followed.
In my final year, we occupied the University and as one of the Lancaster 25 I was expelled and then reinstated under threat of the Privy Council. To be a name and a number in those days was high street cred. The Chaplaincy Centre was our centre of operations during the occupation. Earlier I had been provisionally accepted as a Jesuit but subsequently failed the test of obedience which has been the story of my life. I met my future wife in the Centre – her first words when she swept into my office (I was president of the Chaplaincy Association) were It’s not you I want; ironically the same words my mother used tomy father in the grounds of her lodging when she was sneaking a friend in after hours. Maybe it was a challenge, but we were later married there with two members of the catholic chaplaincy as best man and main of honour. I cooked countess baked bean suppers for late-night revelers there, was a part of several pilgrimage walks and oh so many debates. Jack a visiting academic introduced me to Karl Rahner and Tom Stoppard in Brian’s sitting room trigger a life long interest. I could go on at greater length but the Chaplaincy Centre was the place of my belongings for four years and it was the base from which I got involved in Liberation Theology which will be the subject of my next post. I think I was born to live collectively be regrettably haven’t for other than two short periods – this and the subject of the next post
Chaplaincy Centre Spire by Lupin under a creative commons license
County college banner picture by J Duncan under a creative commons license