The big day of the interview arrived. I was nervous but felt good and had a new-found air of confidence in myself as a woman (if not in my potential as a mature student) – the four weeks in the Spanish sunshine in the company of my friends had given me the boost I needed. Still slim following my surgery, I was now bronzed and looked healthy in my polka dot skirt smooth and sleek over my hips, but lightly gathered about six inches below the waist in a girly feminine way and ending just above my knees, revealing two very brown legs. The pure white broderie anglaise camisole top clinging to my small frame and accentuating my tan. I was 43 and doubted that anyone would realise what lay beneath that fabric stretched taught across my belly.
It was a warm day and I carried my heavy portfolio from Liverpool Central Station, up past Lewis’s and under the famous statue exceedingly bare (as noted by the songwriter Peter McGovern) and along Renshaw Street, up Leece and Hardman Streets and finally into Myrtle Street and the building of Liverpool Polytechnic, where the interview was being held. The sweat glistened on my chest and my cheeks were now pink on brown. Other prospective students had congregated and after a while we were split into two groups, I was in Group A and was directed with the other A’s to pin up our work in the allocated room. The tutor on the selection committee drifted in and lingered by my work. I could tell he liked it and that I would be accepted onto the course. The tutor drifted out again and I waited with the others. Some time passed before someone else entered and said there had been a mistake and some of us were to join Group B instead. We, the selected few had to pull down our work and pin it up in the adjoining room.
We discovered that different room meant different selection committee, consisting of one tutor and one student representative. The student rep was perhaps 18 or 19, unkempt, unprepossessing, buxom and brimming with self-importance. She took an obvious dislike to me – the woman old enough to be her mother and the tutor was equally arrogant. They looked at my work on the wall and I knew from their body language and facial expressions that I was doomed even before they started talking to me. All my hopes and aspirations were dashed and I couldn’t retrieve the situation. The tutor launched a scathing attack at my work, but that was nothing compared to the student, who sneered in contempt – she quite clearly fancied him and was trying to impress.
Neither adjudicator was interested in seeing photographs of the artwork I had sold – and just gave a cursory glance at the work in my portfolio. In their own words my work was ‘too graphic’ for Fine Art. Unanimously they suggested I reapply to do the foundation course or graphics. I was flabbergasted; I’d done a foundation course in the 60s, followed by two years on the Intermediate course, and then worked in graphic design till after I married. More recently I taught art up to ‘O’ level in a secondary school, illustrated for the Zambian National Correspondence College and for many years been selling my work. It was all in my CV, so clearly they hadn’t read it. Having been through recurring cancer, time was not on my side – why on earth were they telling me to do a foundation course – or apply next year for Graphic Design. Wasn’t that notoriously geared up the younger end of the job market?
I left the room bruised and battered, with the smirk on the face of the young student imprinted on my mind. Fighting back the tears I decided I hadn’t been spared death by cancer just to go home a broken woman. Hadn’t I proved just how gutsy I could be? In Africa I had encountered all kinds of dangerous situations, not least narrowly missing being blown up by a bomb in 1981 when visiting Salisbury (now Harare). Fortunately I had just entered a department store and suffered no more than some bruising and a certain amount of shock when I was blown off my feet. I would go and look at the Graphics department, I would find someone to take me, re-educate me and enable me to make a living for myself back in my native land. The gauntlet was thrown and I was determined to accept the challenge.
Reaching the foot of the stairs I looked up to the notice on the wall, Graphics 2nd Floor. Out of the corner of my left eye I was aware of two figures rounding the first landing and descending the stairs towards me. Anticipating my destination a voice said, ‘You’ll need oxygen by the time reach the top!’
I turned to look at the two men, one middle-aged, tall and thin and the other one older, shorter and stocky. Both wore beards and had piercing blue eyes, but surprisingly smartly dressed with ties and the shorter one wearing a suit.
I fluttered my then long eyelashes, flashed a sexy grin at them and replied, ‘Well one of you will just have to give me the kiss of life,’ as I tossed my mane of hair to one side in the manner of Miss Piggy and marched right past them, anticipating the reaction. Giggling like two teenagers, one of them made the feeble reply that it was the best offer they had had for some time and they were still buzzing as they disappeared around the wall at the bottom and I continued up the stairs, momentarily lifted from my gloom.
Not for one moment did it occur to me that I had just met the love of my life, the man I had been waiting for all those years, the one I never dreamed would come along; all hope abandoned.