Your Memories - 1970s
Deborah Hayes (BA German, 1972)
Russell Jonathan Willson and I, Debbie Hayes, first met on 20/11/69 at Mason Hall. He was in his first year of Civil Engineering and I in my second year in the somewhat infamous German Department.
The story of our meeting goes as follows. On 20/11/69 I was dumped by my current boyfriend, Mike, a huge rugby player, also inmate of Mason Hall. In the throes of rejection, I attended a Gryphons staff-student dinner that night. The trick here was to drink as much as poss as quickly as poss, as the staff paid for the alcohol! So.....I returned rather the worse for wear. En route, I passed through the dear old arts block to check my pigeon hole, only to find a rather curt note from my tutor informing me that I was behind with my translation allocation and that I must submit one by the next morning, 21 Nov.
I returned to Mason Hall where I was currently residing in ELG 15. There was a great deal of noise going on in the corner room near me where my friends were entertaining a group of civil engineers and others. I knocked on the door, demanded a black coffee and the loan of a particular German dictionary and made to retreat to my room for a jolly night's labour. Amongst the group being entertained in this room was a tall, gangly young man with a glorious shock of long corn-blonde hair, startling blue eyes, wearing a terrible home-knit sky blue sweater (he wore this every day!) and dirty drainpipe jeans with fringes on the bottom - I was hooked instantly!
I thought this young man lived in Mason as he regularly had supper there (in those days it was possible to buy visitors' dining tickets), but he was actually in some rather grim digs which I managed to get him out of and cleverly organised a room for him and his friends in the Anglican Chaplaincy nearby.
We quickly became an 'item' and fell gloriously in love. We were notorious on the campus for wearing white and were known as the 'White Couple' - not very practical for me as I ended up washing and ironing these items. Otherwise Russell generally wore his suit (he had no money and this was the easiest and most hard-wearing item to wear daily) together with the afore-mentioned blue sweater, an appalling short fur coat which I regularly had to repair, and an umbrella, the last item always appeared in the yearly Civil Engineering department photos.
1970 to 71 saw me doing my third year abroad in Freiburg, Germany. This was a difficult time for one so desperately in love with no money to visit each other or phone, plus quite a lengthy postal strike in c. Feb 1971. But absence certainly 'made the heart fonder'.
We managed our final year together, both living in Mason from 71 to 72 (there is a famous story of a breakfast in Mason where R was tactfully charged as a visitor by my tutor who did not realise that we were both legitimately residing in the same hall, albeit at different 'sides' of the building!). During this year R was elected to the position of Guild Secretary of the Students Union. (Happy memories of wafts of 'Nights in White Satin', 'Light My Fire', smells of fried eggs and disinfectant and desperate students stealing the soft loo paper from down in the dungeons). He was described in 'Wall', a famous magazine which appeared on a wall in the Students Union, as 'genial but temperamental' - and what a perfect description this was. It fits exactly to this day! Despite all this extra load, we still managed to graduate.
R worked in Hartlepool with J Laing and I continued my studies at Brum doing a PGCE.
We married in July 1973 at Croxley Green, Herts, where my parents lived. Many ex Brummies attended our wedding, many of whom I am still in touch with: From the German department: Liz Radford who subsequently married Andrew Sutherland, Rich Slaney and Dorcas Finch who also married later, Di Willison who married Dave Ablett and made their lives in Canada, my dear PGCE tutor, Peter Willig, who is godfather to our daughter. From the Civil Engineering department came Peter Witherington, Richard Buckley, Nigel Yarwood, Jon Balley (he sadly died in Jan 2006), Adrian Sidwell and many others.
Two lovely children, some amazing experiences overseas and 30 years later, almost to the day, we were sadly divorced. RJW was my first and only true love of my life and will always be so. As Moliere says, "On n'aime qu'une fois, la premiere" (You only love once, the first time). I owe much happiness in my life to our meeting on that fateful day in Mason so many years ago!