The first time was when I went for an interview at this prestigious university when I was eighteen. I walked into a large room. The air was stale and on all sides were women in undergraduate gowns knitting. I sat down and waited. It seemed like a long time. The knitting went on - a clack, clack, clack measuring out minutes. Then, when my name was called, I was led down a maze of narrow corridors until we reached a room at the end. It was a small room with a large woman. I kept thinking about something I had recently read - how the queen of a colony of insects is kept bloated and immobile because her only function was to produce eggs for the drones to fertilise. She asked me what I thought of single-sex colleges (of which this was one) so I gave my honest answer. Despite this I was asked to go for an interview with the principal of the place the next day but instead I walked. I kept walking until I arrived at the train station and came home. It seems now like an anarchic act. A revolt. I walked away and left it all behind. Instead I went to Durham (ironically to a single-sex college)...and almost thirty years later I found myself walking away again.
This is how it goes.
1pm arrive in Durham.
2pm drop case in room.
2.30pm (after rejuvenating cup of tea) commence general nostalgic tour of Durham with camera.
5.30pm arrive back at college to prepare for informal meal.
6.30pm - 12.30am drinks, meal, bar meet lots of interesting people - several highlights (including meeting a woman addicted to sky diving and meeting a few women from my past).
1am go to bed.
2am go to sleep
3am woken by younger graduates calling to each other outside my room.
3am- 5.30am wait for my neighbours to stop talking, visiting the WC across the corridor, walking across the floor in high heels and doing something odd involving the water system.
7.30am switch off alarm clock on phone.
7.45am switch it off again.
8.00am wake to something being trundled along gravel pathway outside.
8.30am wake again to something being trundled along gravel pathway outside.
8.35am get up.
8.40 look at self in mirror with particular examination of hollows beneath eyes which have now developed into small caves with associated tunnels.
8.42am go to breakfast. Have cup of coffee.
8.50am Have more coffee.
9.00- 10.00am one of those strange periods of time that you know you have lived through but can't think what you actually were doing...except maybe staring into space.
10.00am start out for chemistry dept.
10.30 am attend chemistry dept social event - talk to man who marketed additive added to plastics which gives plastic electrostatic properties to make it stick to haystacks. Feel like I am about to lose consciousness (not his fault - normally I find this sort of thing interesting).
Photo is of Ken Wade - one of my favourite lecturers from my undergraduate days giving a lecture on notable Durham chemists.
12.15pm set out for marquee on race course with a group of three other people I met last night - inane conversation (on my part - ask them exactly the same questions I had asked them about eight hours earlier).
12.30pm arrive at racecourse. Decline wine since feeling weird enough already. Start to queue for food. Talk to people in queue who instantly become my friends - so much so that when they find a shorter queue they motion me over and we giggle together at our great coup.
1.15pm (estimated) reach head of food queue. Salad. Have to eat standing up since tables reserved for the infirm - invited to sit anyway by another person I met a few hours ago and now is a friend.
1.45pm ask Bill Bryson to sign book. It is sweltering and he is wearing jacket, shirt and vest (he looks hot but is very good natured). One of my newly found friends encourages me to tell BB my book woes - he says to keep trying.
2.00pm This is when it happens. This is when I begin the walk away. I say good-bye to new friends and walk out of marquee through the town and then up the hill to college. I have that surreal feeling that I am watching myself move...
I sit on a chair in my room and try to persuade myself to stay to the grand dinner and dancing but fail. I pack, order a taxi and leave.