Suzanne’s outstanding ‘A’ Level results came as no surprise to her or anyone else. She would take up her place at Somerville College in September. Obviously as her parents were in Oxford anyway she would live at home. This arrangement didn’t present any difficulties for Suzanne; her parents had treated her as an adult almost since she could walk. She was used therefore to having her independence within the rambling Victorian semi set in a pretty side street off the Banbury Road, which made it a fifteen-minute walk from college.
Suzanne enjoyed being in Oxford; she had loved it as a child and now went about exploring it anew. Oxford had a different feel in the summer months as the students went down (home to their parents) to be replaced by gangs of tourists who descended on the city from all corners of the world. The crowds remained fairly constant but the content changed; the percentage of bicycles reduced considerably.
Suzanne spent the summer joining the flocks of tourists visiting some of the colleges, Magdalan, Keble, Merton, Christ Church where she marvelled at their history and wondered about the great scholars who had walked the corridors and halls before her. She explored the Ashmolean and attended a couple of concerts at the Sheldonian. She was perfectly happy going about her activities alone and got into the habit of jotting down her observations in a notebook. Occasionally she would bump into a parent as she entered or left the house or foraged in the kitchen at the same time, which would engender a short exchange of affable greetings.
Starting at Somerville was stimulating and Suzanne was glad to be back in academia again. Politics was easy but she was stretched, for perhaps the first time in her life, by Economics. For Suzanne this was a plus, she responded to the challenge by reading everything that she could lay her hands on about economists and their theories past and present from Adam Smith through John Maynard Keynes to modern schools of thought. She was fascinated by the inexactness of the science and wondered how it had reached such a pre-eminent position underpinning the social and political structures of modern society.
Suzanne liked the way that students were expected to contribute to debate rather than sit and listen to the teachers expounding as she had been expected to do at school. She participated fully in the cut and thrust of political and economic debates relishing the arguments presented and rebutted by many clever and incisive minds, she felt in her element. Many of her tutors were impressed with her progress and several thought that she might follow in her father’s footsteps as an Oxford Don.
Suzanne found her academic life very fulfilling but was aware that the social side of her university life was practically non-existent. As she was acutely analytical this condition pre-occupied her thoughts for a while. Was there something about her that was unattractive to others she wondered? As she attended a women’s college her opportunities to mix with males were limited. Did she mind? She wondered for the first time if she regretted not being popular and even questioned herself about her decision to attend a women’s college. Was it because she was unconfident mixing with men? She certainly had not gained much experience of the opposite sex, in fact almost entirely limited to ‘audiences’ with her father and the odd meeting with other girls’ fathers and brothers.
She was aware that most of the girls with whom she studied had more than a passing interest in young men from other colleges. Even highly intelligent women could spent an inordinate amount of time and energy pursuing ‘chance’ meetings with members of the opposite sex in the hope that they would get a date, she noted. On retrospection Suzanne found herself to be fairly indifferent to popularity, friendship and men after which she shrugged off the whole conundrum and got on with her work.
Suzanne settled into a routine of attending lectures and seminars, studying in the Bodleian library and writing essays, papers and dissertations on her typewriter at home. She walked everywhere in and around Oxford always conscious of the history of the place. Her grades were always in the top percentile and by the third year she was widely considered to be heading for a double first.
Still not sure what she wanted to do for a career she set about researching opportunities. She realised quite quickly that she did not want to settle into life as an academic and that she was ready to move on from Oxford to a less cloistered world. She toyed with the idea of the financial sector because of her passion for economics. She wondered about politics but discounted any public facing role, as she was quite shy and a very private person.
Gradually she narrowed down her opportunities until the favourite was to join the civil service. She would have variety of choice in terms of different government departments and types of work. There would be a clear career structure that would allow her to progress through the ranks. She may get to travel, or at least use her languages, in departments such as the Foreign Office or Department of Trade. The pay was relatively good and the pension terms the best available.
Suzanne set about pursuing her options and through an introduction from one of her tutors was called for an interview at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. After a successful interview she sat her Civil Service exams and passed with flying colours. It only remained for her to sit her finals and she would be ready to start work.
Suzanne travelled by train for the first few weeks of her new working life at the Foreign office. This took close to two hours at the beginning and end of every day. Although the journey passed quite quickly she really thought it was time to establish her independence. Suzanne started to trawl through the rental section of ‘The Evening Standard’ she thought she may be able to afford to rent a bed-sit fairly central for work on her modest salary. Eventually she found a third storey bed-sit in Earls Court that was quite light and had been sensitively converted to provide a kitchenette in the corner of a spacious unfurnished living room. Best of all it had its own tiny bathroom.
Over the next few days she made trips to Habitat from where she ordered a new bed, table and chairs, a couple of lamps, some colourful rugs, and a throw and some squashy cushions to convert the bed into a sofa for day-time. She also spotted a big comfortable armchair that she would have next to the window that let in a lot of light – perfect for reading. Finally she bought glasses, china, cutlery and pots and pans for the kitchen and fluffy towels for the bathroom. Her savings exhausted she said her goodbyes to Oxford and moved in to her new ‘pad’ over the weekend. She wondered how long it would be before her parents noticed that she had moved out.
Organising her new surroundings gave Suzanne a lot of pleasure. She had picked several items that were shades of red and orange which gave the place a warm, cosy feeling. She organised her reading space with her new chair and reading lamp. Some of her books piled up next to the chair in the window, the arrangement a stopgap until she could afford book shelves. The bed was comfy for sleeping and made a useful and attractive sofa for guests, if she ever had any she thought wryly. She positioned her table next to the kitchen area with the four modern dining chairs, with much the same thought.
At the end of the day Suzanne tired but triumphant sat for a moment to admire her handiwork. It was a success, she thought, I will be happy here. Her last chore for the day was to run around to the local mini market and stock up on food, and to get a bottle of wine for a celebratory treat. She spent Sunday pottering enjoying her independence; she spread The Sunday Times and The Observer around the room as she tried out different reading positions.
In the afternoon she sat at the table, as she had planned, and wrote change of address cards. On the top of her list were Rebecca, Caitlin and Penny. Suzanne wrote her new address with a flourish and then added a note about her new job. As she wrote the cards she thought of each of her friends with nostalgia. On each of the cards she requested news up-dates and hopes that she would see them soon.
To continue reading this story on your e-reader click here.