Student reading in library

Chapter 4. Harvey and Anne – November to June

Saturday came at last though it was only hours away. Harvey’s car, of course, would not start! Such is the cussedness of machines! He cycled to Anne’s college, apologized about the car, and they walked from there, through the Parks, slowly by the river, down to the centre of the city, had a coffee and then walked back again. They could have carried on walking together for hours. And then on Sunday they met again. The days passed, the weeks passed and then the months. That year went by too fast, too fast for both of them for it was Harvey’s last in Oxford. For Anne it was the realisation of all that she felt that “university” would be when she had thought about it at school. At school the sixteen year-old looks forward to “university”. It is the Promised Land, where anything can happen. It fulfils the hopes for some. For many, it is a terrible disappointment. For Harvey it was the very happy culmination of four happy years. He had gone through university easily, one of the lucky few to ride carefree over the mountains of youth. He hadn’t wanted to change the world, he hadn’t wanted to feed the hungry masses of Africa at a stroke or to bring down the government in one massive demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Managing a reasonable pass in his exams and making it into his college rugby team, playing cricket in the summer and then some acting and a lot of parties: this had been enough for him. The world was OK as it was. If he could enjoy it and help one or two people around him to do the same, then that was as much as he wanted.

The university year is short anyway, but for Anne and Harvey it seemed a matter of weeks.

They met in November. Autumn fell into winter, and it rained and it was muddy. The frosts came and went through the rugby season. Spring grew into summer, the hedges turned green and when summer came, so did the exams. And that is the university year at Oxford. Like youth, it is very short. And like all wishes, you only have three. Just three years.

There had been many happy drinks and walks. There had been hours spent together in the consuming business of the day-to-day: shopping and eating, going to the cinema and mending punctures on Anne’s bike. ‘Why do his tyres never puncture while mine always do?’ Writing essays, looking for books in libraries and talking late into the night. ‘He took me to films and I took him to concerts.’

But next September, in September when the year becomes serious again, they parted. Yes, they parted. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” He wanted to be a teacher and went to Manchester for his year of teacher training. Why? Why didn’t he do this year in Oxford? He told Anne he just needed a change and that, he felt, was true.

What could Anne do except look forward bleakly to her second year, a year on her own.

A secondary school in the early sixties did not equip its sixth formers for a love life. Double maths, double French. No double tactics of love. And Greek and Latin? What had Anne learned from that? Dido deserted by Aeneas? Ariadne dumped on Naxos? Not much encouragement there! She had no resources to fall back on, no way of making him stay, and so Harvey went, up to Manchester.

‘I’ll never forget the day he left though I hate remembering it. It was a Tuesday, and it was a wet and misty Tuesday. Tuesday, of all the days of the week, is the day I hate the most. When has anything good happened on a Tuesday? I was OK while I helped him pack. I could find things, sort out things and then pack them up. If you’re doing something, you’re OK. It’s doing nothing that’s fatal. That’s when the mind opens and the worries rush in, when you’re doing nothing. There were even one or two bright moments, I remember. One was when I counted 23 single socks. I made a pile and counted them. Yes, he had 23 odd socks. But then it was finished, the bags were done, and the last tea was drunk, and the mugs were washed and that was it and he left. The Mini went up the road and round the corner and that was it. Don’t watch him out of sight! That’s bad luck! Who said that? It was Grandma. I remember she used to say that.’

And she watched the smoke of the exhaust as the overloaded Mini struggled up the road, and she felt sick. Her head was heavy, her stomach was weak, and life stretched ahead. She tried to keep busy. Going through all the steps of making a meal was a help, but then the meal was made and it was eaten, or some of it was eaten, and she was alone, and life had to be faced again. “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Where’s the sweetness? Only when there is a tomorrow. The line needs the rhyme. Sorrow needs a tomorrow, and people need something to look forward to. You must have something on the horizon. 

A night’s rest helped, and so did the things that had to be done next day. But love is never fair. It lifts you up for a time, and then drops you down again, and then you’re worse off than you were before.

Two more years to go. Two more years to do for her degree.

So during those sad days in late September, when the mornings and evenings are damp with autumn, and you think you can cross the lawn without getting your shoes wet, and you try it, and you come back to the kitchen with them soaked, in late September then, Anne slowly packed her suitcases for the new university year.

‘Why shouldn’t I meet someone else. I don’t want to meet anyone else. Work, work work. That’s always the solution, isn’t it? How do retired people manage? Or have they learned to face life by then? Yes, that’s the way forward. Work.’