The Covid-19 lockdown is having some surprising effects, as I commented on in my previous post. One is the clarity of mind that I have at present, and the absence of the usual ‘brain fog’ resulting from trying to think about too many things at a time!
I’ve been waking quite early recently, and having some thinking time before going out for my walk, and this morning what should pop into my head but a memory from my childhood of my parents’ friendship with the psychologist and critic Denys Harding.
My parents moved from London to Suffolk in 1962. We moved to a small village, Wenhaston, where my mother became head of the primary school, and where she still lives to this day. My father had been working as a technician in the Psychology Department at Bedford College (a college of the University of London which later merged with Royal Holloway College in 1985 to become Royal Holloway and Bedford New College). Bedford College was In Regents Park, London, and I remember my father taking me there occasionally. The Psychology Department was led By Professor Denys Harding; it was a small department, and my father knew ‘the prof’ well (it seems academic departments were friendlier places then!)
When we moved to Suffolk, my father retired from Bedford College, and 1963, Professor Harding also retired, to his house (the old vicarage) in Ashbocking, Suffolk, about 26 miles away from where my parents now lived. I remember that we would visit Denys and his wife Jessie from time to time, and my main recollection is the geese they kept, which were quite frightening, and certainly as effective as any guard dog. Another recollection was the very formal way in which Denys and Jessie lived, with separate cloakrooms for male and female visitors, to which we would be ushered on arrival. And they really were cloakrooms – with hanging space for coats, and washing facilities as well. (An interesting footnote to this is that I looked up the house, and it was most recently on sale for £2.5M!)
I don’t know when I last met Denys, but it was probably not later than 1975, when I went to University. He was always kind to me, and I remembered this morning that he had given me a copy of Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’, to which he had written an introduction. And, miracle of miracles, I still have this book, which he signed for me (see photo below).
Denys died in 1993, a year after his wife Jessie. The obituary in the Independent provides a good summary of his working life, from his education at Cambridge, via various academic positions, to the Chair in Psychology at Bedford College. It notes that he was as much a literary critic as a psychologist (born out by his interest in Jane Austen’s works, for example).
This obituary was written by Dr Monica Lawlor, from the same department at Bedford College, who I also remember. Dr Lawlor visited us in Wenhaston several times. I naturally looked her up while writing this, and found that she died in 2013. There is a short obituary in the Royal Holloway and Bedford publication ‘Higher’ (scroll to pages 38-39). She was a Senior Lecturer in Psychology, with a special interest in Child Psychology.
Of course, back in the days when we visited Denys and Jessie, I had no idea of what I would do in my life. Quite what Denys would make of Higher Education now can only be guessed. But, looking back, perhaps there was a small influence there?