|I loved my years in Bristol. Particularly summers drinking Pimms at the Avon Gorge hotel, on the right of the famous Suspension Bridge.|
In 1991, I headed off to University. The sixth form had been a much better happier time for me at the school. Although I missed life in Hong Kong, on the plus side my parents were now living in Suffolk and the rules had been relaxed at school, which meant that you could basically go home any weekend. Increasingly, I did that. I worked pretty hard for my A levels, and won a place at Bristol University to read English (having flunked the Cambridge interview, probably in part due to a bad cold and confessing that I liked to read chick-lit).
That summer, I went Inter-railing with my schoolfriend J. We spent a month slumming it around Europe; sleeping on trains, staying in Youth Hostels, even sleeping on the beach in Cannes one night. We partied in Perpignan with a group of French squaddies; sat round campfires on the beaches of Corfu with English public schoolboys; chased a mugger in Barcelona to retrieve J's wallet; shared a dusty pensione with a couple of Americans we randomly met in Rome's railway station. It was a fabulous month; I came back slim, tanned and totally ready for University. But I hadn't yet found one thing I wanted; a real romantic relationship.
Bristol was a revelation to me compared to the strict regime of school. Now I could do pretty much what I liked; there were barely any rules or regulations (other than not smoking in the halls of residence, and I didn't smoke anyway); you could sleep in till noon, drink yourself senseless, have boys in your room overnight. My English degree seemed to involve very few lectures. I found this a little unnerving at first, and wasn't quite sure what to do with myself half the time, but I quickly made friends with the people on my corridor in my hall of residence. They were an eclectic bunch, and one of them, a medical student, was to become my future husband. I wrote a little about our courtship here. It was the first time I had been in love, and was to shape my life forever.
Once I was part of a couple, University was a wonderful time for me. I had left behind the strait-laced boarding schoolgirl, dumped Laura Ashley for lycra and was out to have a good time. The Doctor and I had a strong band of mutual friends and Bristol was a great place to be at university; in the summer, we'd have picnics on the Downs and drink Pimms at the Avon Gorge hotel next to the Clifton suspension bridge; in winter, there were plenty of cosy pubs at which to hang out, unless it was Wednesday, in which case you went to the Students' Union bar. Academic work took a bit of a back seat however; although still an avid reader, I took little real interest in my degree. I graduated with a respectable 2.1, and a big dilemma as to what to do next.
Other than my early dreams of acting, I had always wanted to work in the media. I considered advertising and PR, and even had a few interviews at firms with graduate trainee schemes. But what really appealed was becoming a journalist, so I applied to do postgraduate journalism at Cardiff University. There was just one tiny problem; I had failed to do any kind of student journalism while at Bristol, having been too busy partying. The tutor at Cardiff told me as much; she would put me on the waiting list for a place, but I HAD to get some experience.
So, that summer, I went off and worked as an unpaid intern at the Bristol Evening Post and at BBC Wildlife magazine; I did a typing course; I won a competition to get onto Cosmopolitan's student advisory board. The latter involved two lunches at the Groucho Club (how glamorous!) and a week of work experience in London at the magazine (which mainly seemed to involve getting lunch for then editor, the fabulous Marcelle d'Argy Smith. I remember it well; she liked a smoked salmon bagel). Meanwhile, I kept on telephoning Cardiff, asking them if there was a place yet, and updating them on what I had been doing work-wise. Eventually, two weeks before term started - a result! I had a place. By chance I knew a friend of a friend from Bristol who was also going to Cardiff; I got in touch and we ended up sharing a flat.
Although I missed The Doctor (I travelled to Bristol every Friday night, coming back on Monday morning), and wasn't too enamoured with Cardiff itself, I enjoyed the work side of things far more during that postgraduate year. As well as honing my writing skills, I actually thrived on learning stuff like shorthand and journalistic law; somehow it seemed much more practical than my English degree. I made some more great friends (including the lovely M who has her own blog, Circles in the Sand) and finished the year with a distinction in my postgraduate diploma.
I was now a fully qualified journalist. The next challenge was to get a job.