How do you spell "traditional teaching methods"? My parents applied for a council house transfer to be in the catchment area of Northway, a very good primary school they'd read about in the Liverpool Echo. My father worked overtime to pay for the more expensive rent for this larger flat. There were 50 in a class; it was very strict, with learning by rote and a spelling test every week. I was very clever, a little bespectacled swot. I won a book token, the poetry prize in a Liverpool public libraries competition.
Go to gaol? I passed the 11-plus to Aigburth Vale Girls High School, known locally as "Eggy Gaol". When I met Paul McCartney, I told him I'd been to "Eggy Gaol" and he knew exactly what it was. I was there for two years and then my dad's job moved south. That was the big shock. I suspect Trowbridge Girls High School was better, a county grammar school half the size. I wrote poetry and edited the school magazine. I used to wear CND and Movement for Colonial Freedom badges, only be told to take them off and then, in a war of attrition, I would put them on again.
Oxbridge over troubled waters? I got eight O-levels. I failed maths. They wanted me to take it again but I said, "No, I don't need it." You had to have one science to get into university, and I had biology. My A-levels were English, Latin and art. My English teacher was the key person, which often happens with writers. Mr Boulding was a plump, unprepossessing, sweet, deaf old man. I completely adored him and he adored me. My little grammar school had never had anyone at Oxford but Mr Boulding's daughter had gone there, to St Hilda's, and I tried to get there too. I tried and failed - and was heart-broken. I wasn't a good interviewee, and was terribly nervous. Mr Boulding was very upset, and wrote to St Hilda's to protest.
A finger in every Pi? I read English at University College, London. I'm an English teacher manque and I live my subject still; it's still there - the little girl with Mr Boulding. Although I now live on a hillside, I was a big city girl and wanted to live in London; but I was lonely in my first year. At the beginning of my second year, I went to Pi, the student paper - which was edited by Jonathan Dimbleby. We married in February 1968 and lived in a little rented house in Fulham: a marriage made in journalism. People swore I was pregnant, but I wasn't; we didn't have our first child for six years, which would be a long gestation ...
Second year strike? I refused to take my end-of-year exam. I said I disapproved of exams - a very 1968 thing - but the reality is, I hadn't done any work in my second year. Professor Frank Kermode was tearing his hair out. I quickly had to do a lot of work and take a new set of exams at the end of July, which I sat in solitary splendour, feeling rather foolish. I went on to the third year.
Beowolf cub? I had a huge amount of pride, and wanted to get an Upper Second. The only way to tackle Beowulf was to do it; you can't faff about. I loathed linguistics and was very bad at it - although the professor, [Lord] Randolph Quirk, put me up later to be a fellow of UCL. I was extremely pleased to get a first. I thought, "Great!" and then I thought, "Stuff you, St Hilda's."Reuse content