Life at Queens’ was the only time in my life when geography has been so determined by geometry. In 1980 I found myself on the horizontal plane, an Erasmus corridor. Surrounded by 3rd year blokes who gleefully told tales of the infamous College Stag Do mourning/celebrating the end of the monastic lifestyle of Queens'. As a buffer against the testosterone of the older boys, I barricaded myself with the Louise Dolman (now Sealy) and Jackie Mortimer (now Heron). And then life went vertical; my second year was spent on Cripps CC stairwell and then in my final year to N11 I seemed to be endlessly journeying up and down to the loo and showers. I will never forget the views. Sitting playing Vaughan William’s The Lark Ascending gazing out of my Erasmus window as people punted up and down the Cam, watching the flowers opening up in the Grove from Cripps, and following the Walnut Tree’s ever changing appearance as well as people-spotting from N11.
Being among the first 39 women undergraduates the College ever had, meant that I took part in many firsts. I spent a large part of my leisure time sliding up and down metal runners in the first Eight then first Four the College ever put on the water with women in it (Diana McLaren, Louise Dolman, me and Nichola Davis). That has stayed: my prize possession at home is a water rower. Not invited to join the ‘Roos, the more sporty of us formed the Valkyries. It was a surreal life: on the one hand as part of the first Womens’ Group, I campaigned to get the College to provide all women with rape alarms and, on the other, I indulged in the forensic discussions about the design of the Valkyrie scarf. There was some indignation that mixed couples were not permitted to share sets in the second year; the argument was practical not moral – what happens if they break up?
I still remember the frisson of excitement when Emma Thompson headlined the BATS production of The Duchess of Malfi in Cloister Court, and elsewhere watching Tilda Swinton playing naked in the round with Roger Hyams in Athol Fugard’s Statements After Arrest and realising that most of the audience were there just to see her without her wardrobe. It was a brilliant brave performance by both of them. How we knew then who would become household names I don’t know, but they were already marked.
A few years after I going down, I returned and walked the cloisters and courtyards. I realised that it was not the bricks and mortars that had made it my home for three years but the people. Old as Queens’ is, it belongs to the now, to today’s students and fellows. I was like a ghost out of time. There were no names I recognised on the boards, no reason to climb any staircase.
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