Anglophone Years

A year at the Lycee Charles de Gaulle, South Ken. London. For us the only change from our school in Grasse was that we took the tube, not the bus. And other passengers mostly spoke English, not French.

Applying for a French university was more difficult from London. ‘Why not try for a British university?’ I filled in the UCLES form, and found myself studying Genetics and Cell Biology at Manchester – one of the few places I knew in Britain: I’d been helped by an astronomer from Jodrell Bank when I’d wanted to buy a telescope several years earlier.

Only 3 years at university, so only 2 summer holidays (most METU students study for 5 years, 1 learning English, and 4 in their departments; so 4 summer holidays!). In our first summer, a friend and I spent 10 weeks touring the eastern seaboard of North America: Canada and the US, from Toronto to Quebec, Boston, New York and Washington. The second summer, a group of us took kids from a Battered Women’s Refuge camping in Portmaddock; and I had my first visit to Galway.

On graduation, I wanted to go somewhere I could study in English, live in French and do cross country skiing… Where else but McGill, Montreal, Canada. I did occasionally ski to work through the Mont Royal Park during the 5 months of snow. After my first year in Canada, I returned for 2 weeks in Britain, but…

Another brain operation cut short my Canadian visa, and my life once again bounced off in an unexpected direction: back to Britain. While recovering from surgery, 3 months intravelling across Canada, through the US to South America; once back in Britain, 3 months (nearly settling) in Aberdeen. Then 4 years of PhD research developing DNA transformation of Coprinus Cinereus at Manchester University. Fascinating but frustrating; I’d not yet found my path in life. Cycle maintenance, lab technician work, carpentry, primary school teaching all enabled me to pick up skills (and O levels in English and Maths, to complement the Astronomy and Scottish Gaidhligh O levels I had previously acquired).

In 1981 a few of us set up Sprocket, Manchester’s Cycle Campaign – now renames Greater Manchester Cycle Campaign.  At the 1984 national meeting of UK cycle campaigns (London City Hall, with Ken Livingston) I was one of 5 elected to the board of the European Cycling Federation.  Meetings in Bruxels at the Transport Commission, Stasbourg to meet MEPs from 6 countries, and Amersfoort (NL) where the then Minister of Transport took us to visit places we could only dream of; so much starts with a dream.

The turning point was again unexpected. In April 1986, days before Chernobyl, the abolition of the Metropolitain Councils had allowed me to move into my ‘own’ house: a 1908 terraced house, ‘2up,2down’ built for workers on the Trafford Industrial Estate. My neighbour Les had lived there since he was 5 and could tell so much: where the bombs fell in the war – explaining the gap in the row at the beginning of the road; the ‘knocker upper’ who used to walk down the street around 5 am, tapping on the top windows, waking people to catch the Number 52 tram to be on time for work; the people who’d kept chickens in the back yard during the war, and painted the walls black (probably some health reason), explaining why some of the bricks in the rebuilt wall were black; who on the street had been first to have electicity connected – and everyone gathered round to watch them turn on the first light bulb, that flashed and went out; and who was the last to have an outside toilet. Unlike the Moss Side back-to-backs built in the nineteeth century, the Rusholme terraced houses each had a back yard as well as a front entrance; in the back yard there were both toilet and coal cellar. When I moved to 41 Thornton Rd, a friend helped me transform the back yard: digging up the concrete, he used the bricks from the toilet and the coal cellar to make raised beds, and soon a garden was growing herbs, veg, and anything for insects, birds and other wildlife.

In 1985 I was lucky enough to get an appointment with Carys Bannister, at North Manchester General Hospital.  Until I left for Turkey in December 1993, I looked forward to my 6 monthly visits to Britain’s first woman neurosurgeon; she’d always give me the last appointment at 4.30 and after a quick check, we’d have time to talk about so much else.