When I was 17 or 18, I went for an interview at Cambridge University. I’d passed the application form stage, I’d passed the selective exam, and now all I needed to do was to go down from Yorkshire on the train, stay overnight, find something for breakfast, have two interviews and make my way home.
So off I went. I wanted to study Literature at Cambridge very much. I was nervous – it was the last hurdle – and when I got there, I was unbearably jittery. I found the College in the city centre, and the porter showed me my lonely little room. It was getting late, so I laid everything out for the morning and tried to sleep.
It turned out you could breakfast in the College dining hall (think Hogwarts). The day got off to a bad start. I sat opposite a very confident chap who’d just been skiing in the Alps or some such, and he talked about it at great length. When he finally heard me speak, he became animated, and gestured over for everyone else to come and listen to my Yorkshire accent. Heck, I didn’t even know I had a funny Yorkshire accent. I ran for it.
Onwards – to the interviews. The first one, a general getting to know you interview, went badly. I had this whole wonderful topic on how I loved art all worked out. I tried to say ‘La Orangerie’, which is a gallery in Paris where Monet’s waterlily paintings are kept.* I love it there. But my accent tripped me up again and the Professor couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) understand what I was trying to say.
And he said… ‘Well, moving on from whatever it is you’re trying to pronounce.’
The second interview was worse. I was so shredded by this time that I forgot even my own name, and just sat there sadly, while two Literature Professors fired questions at me from right and left. I could just answer one, poorly, when the next one had passed and already been forgotten. I got in such a muddle my bottom lip began to wobble.
They called a halt and said I’d better go. They’d been a little mean, in fact, and I was glad to leave. I stumbled out, and on the doorstep ready to go in next, was the skiing guy. Good Luck, I whimpered, and he replied:
I won’t need it.
In that moment, I hated Cambridge and everything it was. I didn’t get a place, and I was glad!
But, there was one girl I met on that interview day, and I’ve never forgotten her. For ten short minutes, she made the whole thing worthwhile. She told me she hadn’t prepared for her interview at all, and her eyes were full of fun and mischief; she was so warm and friendly. And so naturally confident. I have thought about her often over these years. You know how you meet someone sometimes – a similar soul, an instant spark?
I wonder if she got in? I wonder where she is now? I wonder who she is? I wonder, are you her? She could be anyone. I wonder, if we met, would I still admire her? Did she feel that spark of friendship and attraction too?
I like to think she did win a place, but then she might have been happy anywhere.
*I couldn’t resist searching for my photos from that gallery, whatever it’s called 🙂