During my second and final year at Ruskin I applied to University College, Durham, and for two courses at the University of Manchester. I also put down York and some other place to make up the numbers. Both York and the other place asked me for interview but I declined the requests as both Durham and Manchester left me with three degree courses to choose from, having made their offers as part of their interviews.
I went to Durham with a view to reading Politics and Modern History. The interview was pro-forma as it was made pretty clear right from the start that a college that was almost entirely made up of former public school boys quite fancied having a mature Ruskin student who had left school at 15 and lived in a Manchester council house.
What put me off Durham was the air of Oxford rejection that I noted after the interview when I mooched around the town. I remember calling into the Durham Union Society’s building to confirm at the general office that my Oxford Union card gave me reciprocal rights with Durham’s version. The fellow behind the counter began to make a hissing sound when I mentioned Oxford and said that we probably did that about Durham.
“No, only about Cambridge,” was my reply, which left him looking pretty crestfallen.
My next interview was also for Politics and Modern History, but at Manchester. The interviewer asked me who my tutor was at Ruskin and I replied that the head of the history department was a Dr. Victor Treadwell. He nodded at that and bowled me an easy ball as his next question, but as I answered it I could see that he was not actually taking any notice of my reply.
“Treadwell, did you say Treadwell?”
“Er, yes, he was my tutor and he heads the department.”
He then asked another easy question and as before took no notice of my answer.
“Treadwell… Irish customs policy, eighteenth century?”
“Yes, that’s the man,” I replied.
“Good God! I remember him at a seminar and he said…”
The rest of the interview was taken up with a hymn of praise from a Manchester academic for my Ruskin tutor and ended with the comment: “Well, if you’re good enough for Treadwell, I suppose you’re good enough for us.”
My second interview at Manchester was with the American Studies Department and took place a day or so after Oxford rejected Margaret Thatcher for an honorary degree. Hard though it may be to believe in these internet days, but in 1985 people in Manchester had to wait for letters from Oxford if they wanted the real gossip. So, the interview, such as it was, consisted of telling an ever growing band of Manchester dons just how much fun had been had in Oxford on that glorious day.
People fired questions at me about this or that college and the reaction there, and I realised that they had graduated from those institutions and were hoping for a good bit of first rate, first hand gossip that could be swapped over dinner than evening.
Looking back, I cannot think of any of my Ruskin contemporaries who did not pass from Ruskin to a serious, heavyweight university. Those universities knew enough about Ruskin to know that having managed to get into the college we were a safe bet for an offer.
Ruskin College, Oxford, acted as our gateway to the serious universities and we took full advantage of the fact that the college had given us the chance to have those options that we would not otherwise have had if we had not been able to call ourselves Ruskin students.
Kenneth Bell’s writings are available from Amazon, and the paperback versions can also be ordered via your favourite bookshop. If you want signed copies please drop him a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at www.kenbell.info, when the mood takes him.