I started at Liverpool College of Art in September 1957. I had just turned eighteen and could hardly believe my luck. A year earlier my father had died, after a painful battle with lung cancer. My two older brothers had left home, and my mother and I had little money. Before he died Dad, who was desperately worried about providing for us, told me that I wouldn't be able to go to college: I'd have to get a job and help Mum. I promised I would, but it was hard to accept that my college hopes were at an end. Mum said nothing at the time, but she knew how much college meant to me, and after Dad's death she said, "You go to college, love. We'll manage somehow." She took in lodgers to make ends meet: she crammed four beds into the master bedroom for four working lads, young apprentice electricians who were happy to share. From then on home was more like a boarding-house – there were always queues for the bathroom and I had to get up at dawn if I wanted to be first in, but I was hugely grateful to Mum and determined not to let her down.
When I got into art college, I set out to be a model student. I turned up promptly every day, neat in my best twin sets and tweed skirts with my pencils sharpened, ready to be the hardest-working girl in the place. My dream was to be an art teacher. Art was the only subject I'd ever liked at school and I was thrilled when, at the age of twelve, I got into the junior art school, which was down the street from the art college. It was there that I became best friends with a girl called Phyllis McKenzie. We planned to go on to college together, but Phyl's father refused to let her go and insisted she get a job. She had to settle for evening classes in life drawing, after spending the day working as a commercial artist for a local corn merchant.
A couple of other girls from the junior art school, Ann Mason and Helen Anderson, started college with me. We were thrilled to be there, and in awe of the older students, many of whom wore the kind of bohemian, beatnik clothes we considered incredibly daring and could only stare at with a mixture of envy and admiration.
Most of us starting college then had been born just before or during the war – in my case a week after war was declared. My mother, with a group of other pregnant women, had been sent to the relative safety of Blackpool, where she gave birth in a tiny cell of a room in a bed-and-breakfast on the seafront on September 10, 1939. It was a nightmare birth: she was left alone, in labor, for a day and a night, and when the midwife finally got to her it was clear that, without immediate help, neither my mother nor I was going to make it. The midwife locked the door, swore my mother to secrecy and dragged me into the world by my hair, ears and any other part of me she could get hold of. My father, who had arrived hours earlier and burst into tears at the sight of my exhausted, terrified mother, had been sent for a walk. He returned to find that his wife had survived and he had a daughter.