College memories make the summer of ’89 ever golden

For Bryan Adams, it was the summer of ’69. For me it was the summer of ’89.

He got his first real six string, had a band and they tried real hard.

I got the PMT bus from Sneyd Green to Fenton five days a week, started playing pool for a pub team and first kissed a girl.

Granted, Bryan’s youth was a little more rock ‘n roll than mine. But I wouldn’t swap my golden memories of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College – even for a number one ballad.

When I read yesterday that college staff were clearing out the class rooms and lecture theatres ahead of the move to a new £33 million campus in Stoke, those memories came flooding back.

I knew the big day was imminent, but seeing it in print still left me feeling rather sad.

In 1989 I was 17 and the world was my oyster. The Stone Roses, the Inspiral Carpets and Depeche Mode were topping the Indie music charts and I had a part-time job in a fireplace showroom in Tunstall which provided my first disposable income.

You probably won’t remember but in 1989 the UK experienced an exceptional 12 months meteorologically.

It was a long, hot, dry summer which (to quote Bryan) “seemed to last forever.”

It was the summer which saw yours truly sunbathing at lunchtimes on the college’s football pitches while listening to cassettes on his cheapo version of a Walkman.

I’m sure someone somewhere can say just how many students have walked up those concrete steps at Fenton and passed through the doors since 1970.

The figure will doubtless be in the hundreds of thousands – the vast majority of whom were from North Staffordshire – and I am proud to say that I’m one of them.

For me, Sixth Form College – like university to many others – equalled freedom on many levels.

I was out of the high school bubble of friends – some of whom I’d known since playgroup. A few came with me but many more didn’t. It was time to meet new people.

I had to organise myself to catch buses every morning. There was no uniform and I sorted my own lunches.

I chose to study A-levels in European History, British Government and Politics and English Literature and, at times, it was bloody hard work.

I recall the Sixth Form library being a wonder to me. Split over two floors and boasting study cubicles and a number of PCs, it seemed vast and alluring.

I enjoyed lectures enormously because we were able to debate topics rather than simply being talked at.

“How would you describe Hamlet’s love for his mother?” That one went on a while, I can tell you.

What was more, the staff treated you like young adults which represented a big change from the school environment.

That meant it was up to you to motivate yourself to attend lectures or fall behind on the coursework. (At this point I’d like to apologise to my politics lecturer Mr Smith for bobbing off lessons with Richard Murphy so that we could play pool at Shipley’s Amusements).

Actually, nobody minded the work because college social life opened up a world of opportunities – especially to a wide-eyed teenager like me whose previous idea of a wild night was spending more than 20 pence at the outdoor.

The Sixth Form had its own radio station run by geeks who piped music into my favourite place – the common room.

Apart from being home to Pat’s Pantry (beef burgers: 35 pence each), it was the place where my mate Mark and I learned to play Blackjack while our pal Brian canoodled incessantly with his latest rock chick girlfriend.

It was there where tickets for discos (I’m afraid that was still the word, back then) at Chico’s by Hanley bus station exchanged hands for a quid.

I never went – preferring instead the dubious pleasures of indie night at Ritzy in Newcastle on Thursdays where I shoe-gazed for England.

Thanks to Fenton’s Sixth Form College I met my first and second girlfriends – one of whom dragged me to my first live rock concert in Milton Keynes.

I also developed a love of Shakespeare and I made one very good friend for life.

Such is the fondness with which I hold the college that I returned a couple of years ago to visit my old English teacher Nigel Mansfield to see how the place had changed and to thank him for inspiring me.

One thing is for sure – when they start to demolish the Sixth Form the ghost of a skinny 17-year-old with floppy curtain hair and a rucksack slung over one shoulder won’t be walking the grounds alone.


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