Two-thirds of the way through my foundation year Phyl arrived at college. She had won a grant, and had finally persuaded her father to let her attend full-time. We were both delighted and in between classes we hung around together most of the time. At the end of that year we had to choose which areas we wanted to specialize in. I went for graphics, but I also signed up for a twice-weekly class in lettering. Phyl decided on painting and lettering, and we were glad of the chance to do a class together.
I arrived for my second year in college just as keen as I had been in the first, but I'd softened my appearance a little. I'd plucked up the courage to say no to Mum's hairdresser friend and was growing my hair. I'd acquired some rather hip black velvet pants to replace the tweed skirts, and I'd begun to ditch my glasses as often as I could. I could hardly see without them – I'm very short-sighted – so this caused me all kinds of problems: I'd frequently get off the bus at the wrong stop or misread notices in college – but I didn't care. I hated my glasses so much that it was worth the odd hiccup. I only put them on when I was working in class, because without them I couldn't see the board or even what I was drawing on the paper in front of me.
We had all taken our seats for the first lettering class when a teddy-boy slouched into the room, hands stuffed deep into his coat pockets, looking bored and a shade defiant. He sat at an empty desk behind me, tapped me on the back, twisted his face into a ludicrous grimace and said, "Hi, I'm John." I couldn't help smiling. "Cynthia," I whispered, as the teacher, who had begun to talk, frowned at me.
I'd seen John around the college but had never spoken to him, as we moved in completely different circles. I was surprised to see him in the lettering class – he didn't seem the type for the painstaking, detailed work involved. He hadn't even brought any equipment. As soon as we started work he tapped my back again and asked to borrow a pencil and a brush, which I reluctantly handed over. After that he always sat behind me, borrowing whatever he needed from me. Not that he used it much: most of the time he did no work at all. He spent his time fooling around, making everyone in the class laugh.
It turned out that John hadn't chosen to do lettering. He'd been ordered into the class when most of the other teachers had refused to have him. He made it clear he didn't want to be there and did his best to disrupt the class. When he wasn't teasing someone he'd give us a wicked commentary on the teacher, or provoke hoots of laughter with his cruelly funny and uncannily accurate cartoons of teachers, fellow students or of twisted, grimacing, malformed figures.
When I'd first looked at John I'd thought, Yuck, not my type. With his teddy-boy look – DA (duck's arse) haircut, narrow drainpipe trousers and a battered old coat that was too big for him – he was very different from the clean-cut boys I was used to. His outspoken comments and caustic wit were alarming: I was terrified he might turn on me, and he soon did, calling me "Miss Prim" or "Miss Powell" and taking the mickey out of my smart clothes and posh accent.