A major aspect of the Oxford women’s college experience in the early 1970s was the bathrooms, which were quite a long trek away from our rooms in the college’s Main Building. I was quite horrified by the state of the baths, which were probably sixty or seventy years old, and had claw feet, brass plugs and suspicious stains. Now, re-enamelled, they would be the focal point of a refurbished Edwardian style bathroom in a middle-class home, but to me, they compared very unfavourably to the relatively modern bath in our 1950s semi. I was relieved to find that my best friend Sarah shared my reservations. A comprehensive search of Main Building led us to the only modern bath. As it was on the first floor, and our rooms were on the second, finding it unoccupied was quite a business, and often required several trips with our soap dishes and towels. My very clear memory of my yellow plastic soap dish and the small sponge and bar of Imperial Leather that it transported attests to the frequency of these perambulations.
We soon realised that these trips to the bathroom, to say nothing of the lavatories on the landing, required appropriate apparel, and as soon as we could, we invested in kaftan-style dressing gowns. Sarah’s was blue, with gold trimming, and very fetching; mine was black, and rather woolly in texture, but it did have the merit of a red and gold mandarin collar.
Perhaps in honour of our new finery, my next door neighbour Angela and her friend Susan, who were both studying English, hit on the idea of a pyjama party. They would invite some men of their acquaintance from Trinity, and all we had to do was turn up in Angela’s room, in our kaftans, and bring a bottle. We decided on apricot wine, our favourite tipple at the time, and easily available in the North Parade off license near college.
The Trinity men showed up, clearly expecting to find a bevvy of beauties scantily clad in the baby doll nighties that were still more or less in fashion. Despite the fact that they themselves were fully dressed, they were clearly disappointed to see us completely covered from head to toe (Angela’s and Susan’s nightwear was also designed more for cold nights in with cocoa and a hot water bottle, than passionate trysts). Nonetheless, the Trinity boys bombarded us with witticisms and repartee. The other three did quite well at returning the volleys of wit and intellect, but I remained steadfastly silent, conscious only of feeling very hot, due to the combined effects of embarrassment, the kaftan and the apricot wine.
Eventually, to my relief, it was nearly midnight. At the witching hour every girl in St Hugh’s with a male visitor in her room had to choose between marching him out and kissing him good night under the sharp eyes of the porters, or keeping him there till 10am the next day. Despite our flushed faces, we were not ready to share our beds with the Trinity crew, so Angela and Susan accompanied their friends to the Lodge, and with a peck on the cheek, bid them farewell. Sarah and I threw off the kaftans and sat in our pyjamas drinking coffee. We were a bit giggly from the wine, and the huge relief of being kaftan-free and no longer struggling to impress Oxford men.