When Dad became ill, at the age of fifty-six, everything changed. Like so many others in those days, he smoked untipped cigarettes, unaware of the damage it was doing to him. When he developed lung cancer he went downhill rapidly: his solid frame wasted away and his breathing was labored. Before long all he could do was sit in his chair in the bedroom, where I would sit with him after school each day. After his death only Mum and I were left, grieving for him and wondering how we would manage. Art college gave me a new focus, something to be excited about, to work for, and to take me out of our quiet little house of mourning into the world.
Watching the older, more confident kids at college, I longed to be like them. I envied their casual, arty style and their long hair. I had arrived with my short mousy hair in a neat perm, courtesy of my mother's friend who was a hairdresser. The trouble was, most of her clientele were over fifty and she made me look middle-aged and dowdy. Every few weeks she would experiment, giving me a different style, but they were all ghastly. And, to make things worse, I wore glasses. I'd arrived at college thrilled to be rid of my school uniform and pleased with my smart new clothes. But I soon felt frumpy and dull, with my matronly hair and conventional outfits. I longed to be more daring, but in those early days I didn't have the courage.
To add to my problems I was saddled with the "over the water" posh image that Scousers had of anyone who lived across the Mersey. I spoke differently, and to them this meant I was stuck-up, even though many of them were better off than I was. My shyness didn't help: it made me seem aloof, when most of the time I was going through agonies, trying to think of the right thing to say. I was hopeless at sparkling conversation and witty repartee, and watched enviously as others bantered while I remained tongue-tied. But despite the drawbacks I loved college. It gave me a sense of independence and freedom I had never experienced before.
During my first year I was seeing a boyfriend I'd met while I was still at school. Barry was a bit of a catch: he was the son of a window cleaner but he looked Spanish and exotic, and he was the Romeo of Hoylake. I was the envy of the local girls when he asked me out. He'd seen me in my white duffel coat, walking my dog Chummy on the beach, and one day he followed me and asked me to the pictures. I was just seventeen and he was five years older. Flattered, I said yes.
By the time we'd been together for a year I was starting college and we were thinking of getting engaged. Barry was working for his dad and saving in the building society for our future. One day he persuaded me to make love with him on the sofa in my parents' front room when Mum was out. It took him hours to talk me into it, promising we'd get married and telling me how much he loved me, but when I finally agreed I didn't think much of it: over in a flash and no fun. I went on seeing Barry, but I made sure we never got the chance to be alone in the house again. One day he announced that he'd fallen for a red-haired girl who lived up the road, and I was heartbroken. It was the first betrayal I had experienced and I vowed I'd never forgive him. But, a few months later, when he begged me to go back to him, swearing he'd made a mistake and I was his true love, I relented.