This is the story of a whirlwind romance. Not a very feminine romance perhaps (I never did understand why love was personified as a woman!), but something strong, sudden, and lasting, we hope, forever.
I was nineteen years old when I went up to Oxford. I felt – what did I feel? – honoured to have been accepted there. I knew I was bright enough, but no more so than so many other candidates, many of whom had not made it. And because of this, I felt duty bound to the institution to live up to their expectations of me, to do them proud, to earn the distinction I had been granted.
I was also lucky enough to get a beautiful room overlooking the small front quad. It was quieter there, and I had the luxury of being able to watch everyone come and go through the main gates whilst I was working.
I was very happy. I worked very hard and threw myself into activities. I played floorball, attended Science Society talks, went to the debates and joined the Inklings writing group. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with Oxford. It offered me an abundance of opportunity and challenged me on a daily basis. The city was beautiful, and I was independent for the first time. When the first term ended I was eager to stay on and, remembering my own experiences, I readily volunteered to help run the next batch of interviews.
A list of names and numbers of the helpers was circulated in advance of the interviews. I looked down the list and remember seeing the name “Guy Fletcher-Wood”. Posh boy, I thought, and “Guy” must get confusing too.
I met him a week or so later.
I was on duty, and he wasn’t, but part of the way through the day he strolled confidently in, put his arms around Karina, our leader, and called her “wifey”. A quick inspection of my sheet, and the sound of his voice and smartness of his dress made me decide that this was Guy. I was a bit confused about the wifey business though, as I had already ascertained that Karina had a boyfriend – but I let that go.
(Later I was to learn that she was his college wife: second year students pair up to ‘parent’ freshers in their subject. My college father failed his prelims and didn’t make it to the second year, and the only time my college mother helped me was when I tried to pass a JCR motion for Meat Free Mondays (the vote drew; they didn’t pass it))
This is Guy on University Challenge.
Guy’s perspective: What I didn’t realise was that my vast number of commitments and obsessive working regime, as well as my quieter residence, had left me a bit isolated. I had friends, but only a few in my college, Somerville. I had met few students from the years above my own. Guy prided himself on knowing everybody in adjacent years at Somerville, and when he got the helpers list, looked down it and saw my name he was confused. He didn’t know me.
So he asked someone in the first year who I was, and received the memorable reply,
“Rowena… she’s odd.”
And thus he decided to befriend me.
He went about this in the most unconventional way, one day during interviews, when we were waiting at the station to hand out maps to candidates on arrival. I still remember vividly winding myself round a lamp post, as this gregarious, confident boy with a very posh accent, told me the story of “Somerville of the Dead” – a narrative constructed between him and a crazy Greek, concerning a cast of friends I didn’t know and described with video-game-like visuals.
I wasn’t phased, and so he concluded that the befriending had been a success.
And a few days later, passing him on the stairs with our respective interview candidates, he swept me off my feet – literally.