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Findus crispy pancakes for tea again

09/01/2013

Nicholas Witchell

That Nicholas Witchell’s been on the telly a lot recently, what with all this royal baby nonsense. I suspect that if he doesn’t get a knighthood soon he’s going to disappear up the collective arse of the royal family. It won’t be a pretty sight.

Each time the oleaginous royal reporter appears on the box I’m reminded of a conversation with a careers advisor at school. It must have been in the sixth form as, for the first time, we were thinking about life post-school and the possibility of going to university or polytechnic. This was back in the olden days when we pronounced all five syllables of university rather than just the first two. Anyway, the only thing I remember from this one and only chat with a careers counsellor was her mentioning that she had, a few years before, dispensed advice on jobs and stuff to Nicholas Witchell during his time at Leeds University. Nick was, at that time, a BBC news reader. I think this was meant as an encouraging “listen to me and you too could be reading the news on the telly” but I remember feeling distinctly underwhelmed.

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. I’d worked hard for my O Levels and got some good grades and was doing alright with my chosen A Level subjects. But, like many working class kids at the time who became the first in their families to pass exams, I simply didn’t think university was for the likes of me. It sounded like somewhere that other people went. My dad had showed me round the factory where he grafted long hours in a “make sure you don’t end up here son” kind of way. And that had motivated me to work hard and pass exams but I hadn’t a clue what it would all lead to. Dreams of scoring a last minute winner against the scousers at the Stretford End had long since disappeared. And a tentative letter to the Met Office enquiring about a career as a meteorologist solicited only a dour grey and orange pamphlet informing me that I needed a science degree. I’d developed a fetish for isobars and warm fronts but science wasn’t really my thing. My confidence remained low and my ambitions modest.

So when it came to filling in PCAS and UCCA forms, I chose to apply for courses at polytechnics only. That was until a couple of my teachers encouraged me to set my sights a little higher, suggesting that, with my predicted grades, I ought to be applying to universities and good ones at that. I was grateful for this support and eventually filled out a UCCA form. Even then my preferred choices weren’t exactly the cream of the nation’s universities; Keele, Salford and Aberystwyth were my top three. I eventually settled on Keele as my first choice. Its left wing reputation and 1960s nickname as “the Kremlin on the hill” tickled my fancy.

These few weeks at the fag end of summer when exam results are out and the nation’s youth emits a collective high pitched “OMG!!! I GOT A B IN TEXTILES!!!!” always remind me of that life changing time. That transition from being spoon fed knowledge at school to, all of a sudden, having to think for yourself and adapt to new surroundings can be awkward. As I queued, on my second day at Keele, for my Derbyshire County Council grant cheque (without which I’d never have gone to university) with plummy voiced kids from the likes of Buckinghamshire and Kent I couldn’t help but feel daunted by the prospect of three years of university life. Those first few weeks were certainly an eye opener including the rather disappointing realisation that not everyone had Findus crispy pancakes for tea. In fact some people didn’t even have tea, they’d mysteriously moved dinner into the tea time slot. I’m sure this wouldn’t have been a problem, however, for Nicholas Newton Henshaw Witchell as he settled into life at Leeds.

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