Peter Marshall (Darwin 81) shares his story with us:
You had the window seat. I had travelled the Edinburgh to London journey so many times that it did not matter where I sat. The same fields, factories, housing estates, whizzing by. Anyway, the aisle seat provided more people-watching opportunities. No mobile phones or electronic gadgetry to distract us in the mid-1970’s.
I sat next to you. You would never know how much this act was one of supreme bravery. Six years in a boys’ school, four years in the merchant navy and now a soldier in an infantry battalion, gave me very few opportunities to hone the skills required to interact with members of the female gender.
You were lovely. You had a quiet assuredness and a completeness about you. You had recently graduated from the University of Kent. Me – sitting next to a university graduate! Well, why not someone or something from Mars or Pluto. It would have had the same effect. You were the first university graduate I had ever met in my life. Terrifying. In the battalion, though, with my single ‘O’ level, I had strangely attained almost professorial status in the eyes of my fellow soldiers in those days. You went to that university – really? Captain *****, from B Company went there too. Maybe you know him? No? Hm…. this university must be big place.
My lack of education represented a huge gap within me. One leg, one eye, same effect. Always something missing. A prisoner of my own ignorance, but I knew that somehow, someway, I must escape, one day.
Courage was plucked and yes you would go out for a drink with me when we both returned to Edinburgh. We went out a few times and later I invited you to the battalion dinner and dance. But something was not right. With me. My fault. My problem. Never yours. At the end of the dance we took a taxi. You to your home – me back to my barracks on the outskirts of Edinburgh. I just exited the taxi and did not say goodbye. Shameful behaviour. You did not deserve that. The yawning educational gap was too much for me. As I say, this was my problem.
Another tour of South West Belfast and later, discharge from the army. Study, work, marriage and fatherhood. A partner who encouraged me to go to university. Education, still a Sisyphean endeavour. Always a struggle. No glittering prizes, but nevertheless, the gradual filling of a void. Goodness knows I have forgotten your name, but not you.
Forty years on, I need to explain, to apologise to you for my stupid behaviour. Would you remember me? Would you forgive me? Should we be in contact, perhaps I would tell you that less than 10 years after we met, Lord Grimond would present me with my law degree from the same university as the one you attended, on a sunny July afternoon in Canterbury Cathedral. I had finally escaped and now I was free.
You gave me the key to that freedom.