Thames Polytechnic: Finding My Feet

While not exactly Oxford or Cambridge, it did have a good reputation as a vocational engineering college, and these days University of Greenwich is quite highly thought of.
I lived for the first year in the halls of residence, a converted office block made into apartments by sticking a load of breeze blocks in place. Comparisons to prison were inevitable.

The location of my room meant that I ended up being friendly with Chris, other Chris, Julian, Mark, Howard and Brian, my fellow floor mates.
I was extremely home-sick in the first term, perhaps for much of the first year. But by xmas I was beginning to find my feet. I put on a lot of weight which didn't help. Felt incredibly self-conscious about it. college wasn't what I thought it would be - a hotbed of radicalism and left field taste in music and the arts. I immediately met up with largely conservative northerners who wanted to be managers, supported Thatcher and loved Iron Maiden or Phil collins. It was worse than what I'd left behind.

There's only a shit housing estate at the end of the rainbow. this was the view from my window, across lovely Woolwich:

The first term was mainly sporadic depression, especially after night-fall, feelings of not fitting in, panicking about the work-load, eating too much and a widening a waist line. I had a terrible hair style, greased back, long and messy. After years of struggle, I’d given up with my hair. I wore pseudo combat jacket and jeans. The pictures I have of me from those times show someone who is obviously into left politics, a bit, but not too overweight, and obviously a student. A cross between Rik and Neil from the Young Ones. More Rik then, more Neil in years to come.

I was aware of my physical decline, having been quite fit, and tried going jogging but ran into people I knew once too often so stopped – didn’t want to be seen. Later in the year it occurred to me to bring my bike up to London. I really missed cycling.

I was extremely home-sick in the first term, perhaps for much of the first year. But by xmas I was beginning to find my feet. The weight gain didn't help. I felt incredibly self-conscious about it. Also Poly wasn't what I thought it would be: a hotbed of radicalism and left field taste in music and the arts. I immediately met up with largely conservative northerners who wanted to be managers, supported Thatcher, did TA at the weekend, and loved Iron Maiden or Phil Collins. It was worse than what I'd left behind.

I thought everyone at College would be cool. How wrong could I be? There were some real reactionary types in the Halls of Residence. After I was moved in by my parents, and sent them on their way (puh-lease!) I tried to meet people, get myself organised etc. The music I played was supposed to impress people with what good taste I have. but my first Sunday night I found it just as difficult to socialise as ever. There was a northern kid who I was on friendly terms throughout the first year just cos we talked to each other first, someone from Northern Ireland who was into Cult/U2/Simple Minds shite.

Early on I met a guy called Chris Meager. He had such bland taste in everything that we ended falling out. not that I was bothered, but he was. He went out of his way to criticise my music, because he took the views I expressed far too personally. I was very vocal about what I liked and was very forthright about how crap the mainstream was. I didn’t intend to criticise what Chris liked, I think I assumed that anyone who was at Poly would have better taste. Or wouldn't be so fecking sensitive!

However he was my first lasting “friend” and through him I met others.
Chrsi M. introduced me to Chris P, Howard and Paul Simon (not him!). Although I felt left out a lot of the time they became the group of people most important to me while at TP. I got invited to the pub on the Friday and everyone from our group got knocked up and invited down. No-one was forgotten!

On that first Friday evening - at one door we knocked at this depressed-looking hippy came to the door with a massive afro hair-style. He said he wanted to stay in and watch the gardening programmes which infuriated everyone. The guy was our age and concerned only with watching shit lifestyle programmes on a Friday night. It's part of what I was trying to escape. But he was persuaded and we went out to the DG pub on Wellington St which became part of our routine in the first year. That hippy was Mark who I ended up sharing a house through the rest of my time at Thames Poly.

The DG used to have very good offers on beer - 50p Guinness or Fosters and once a buy one get one free offer. And it was one of the few pubs in Woolwich where students wouldn't get attacked or thrown out. First time in there I stared at these girls sitting near us (fellow students) and looked an idiot but soon learnt to control myself a bit better.

Met bloke, not part of our group, called Paul Harvey who if anything was more of a depress-head than me. He was into Factory stuff especially New Order, and African guitar stuff. I enjoyed sitting in his room listening to music. Every Saturday, while I cooked a risotto or Bolognese, he’d be in the barely functioning kitchen mashing potatoes. He clearly liked mashed potatoes. He was my first Mancunian!!

My social life was not good. I went to the Cellar Bar in first week and stood about drinking, unable to talk to anyone. When The Smiths "How Soon Is Now" came on I had to leave – I was so depressed. I felt safe in my room, with music, a small B&W portable tv I had bought for £30 from Dixons. I ate comfort foods: Pot Noodles, Vesta Curries, cheese, bread and pickle, etc, mega packs of Nik Naks. Nothing particularly healthy. My exercise had stopped.

College itself was good. I enjoyed learning. The people on my course did not fire my enthusiasm. There was a girl who seemed quite attractive at the time, and there was always a little band of blokes hovering around her. I considered myself a geek, or untouchable so never tried to talk to her. Not until the end of the year anyway when she turned out to be very approachable, easygoing and rather nice, and I now I realise that I probably stood a very good chance and at least I could have tried talking to her. If only I could talk now to my 18 year old self!!!

But I talked to Jackie first. Nearly 30 when she started, which seemed old to me, and wore mainly very long black skirts or jeans, and was very into Heavy Metal and Monty Python. Funny that they say girls don't like Monty Python and I've known two madly fanatical MP fans in my life, and both were women. Me and Jackie became very good friends while at college, though we never socialised aside from coffee in the canteen, I did once visit her house in the westcountry.

Then I met these two other blokes - one, a trendy, but into alternative stuff type, and his dorky mate who did TA at weekends. We were in same group for practical sessions. When I was really lonely I tried to become closer friends to these two, who I knew went to quite a few parties, at least they said they did. But never managed to worm my way into their group.

Can’t remember how I started talking to Dave and Harvey, but it was probably Dave who talked to me first, because he always liked to talk to random strangers, most of whom looked confused. And it was almost certainly about music. We shared musical likes, and I was able to bounce my explorations off of him. We ended up with parallel musical tastes that joined up along the way, like a strand of DNA. Although even I had slightly mainstream tendencies at times which soon got ironed out of me.

Food: nipping out for kebabs when meal was unpalatable. Occasionally managed to get up for breakfast. Very occasionally. Ended up sitting at table with “the lads”. Invented the game of squeezing the condiment sachets so the contents flew across the table at those sitting opposite. I had one hit the pillar we were next to, and it stayed there till end of term. Someone stuck a bit of paper to it and that stayed there too.

Well into the first term I would reach pub closing time and be out in the centre of Woolwich, really drunk and at a loose end, not wanting to go home. So I did what became a habit for me for the next decade or so, I went to the public phone on the corner of Woolwich green and made drunken phone calls to Plymouth. Colin was the main recipient. I was still on good terms with him then. He didn’t go to Poly or Uni, but jumped straight into work. Became an insurance man I believe. At one point he was my mum’s insurance man, turning up at her door occasionally to collect payments.

Also remember a Welsh girl who i met on the way to central London. – I remember she was struggling with luggage so I offered to help then asked her out after we seemed to be getting on fairly well. I gave her my number but the number was completely wrong so I had no chance. If we'd had mobiles then it would have been much easier.
Towards the end of term I was getting used to the place. I enjoyed going to gigs. I had connected with the local Labour Party and, again, had ended up being in with the 'Trots', for the simple reason that 'Trots' seemed to be the only people who were active, and all the moderates were bloody paranoid and wouldn’t give me the time of day.

This was the butt end of the GLC days. Thatcher thought that democracy had got out of control in London what with people voting for lefties and all that and decided to just abolish the whole thing, which had existed for decades, with no interference while people sensibly voted for upstanding pillars of the community, or Tories. Once a nasty noisy smelly lefty like Red Ken was running it, the whole organisation was clearly beyond saving. I voted in the last GLC elections – both for councillors and for ILEA – inner London edumacation authority, which was also abolished.

The main entrance which we hardly ever used

the car park at the heart of the complex

The entrance I tended to use: close to the bars