One morning in early December, I woke a little ahead of my alarm, as I tended to, and switched my trusty Philips transistor radio on. I lay there listening to the recent John Lennon single, wondering if any of his other new work was any better – more like the angry young man I had been so attracted to as a rebellious 15-year-old. ‘Starting Over’ was followed by ‘Imagine’; ‘odd,’ I thought ‘bit of overkill this time in the morning.’ ‘Imagine’ was followed by the sort of ominous silence which tells you everything you need, but don’t want, to know. Radio 1 went straight to the news, and I lay there in shock, listening to the reporter inNew Yorktrying to make sense of an apparently motiveless killing. It’s no exaggeration to say that my life changed in those few minutes. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. Of course, nothing had happened to me, but the feeling was unmistakeable; although Lennon was not of my generation, he was still in my generation; he was young, invincible, smart, funny, and almost mythical. For the generation before mine he was their spokesman; for mine he was an immutable part of the social fabric. I was alone in a strange city, with no-one to talk to, and someone had just altered the edges of my reality. I rose and dressed in stunned silence.
Breakfast was subdued; the national press had no coverage; the Scottish papers only a few paragraphs. Everyone had heard the same bulletin; we all knew only the meagre facts as reported on the radio. Several people had the news broken to them as they sat down, and it was a solemn and sombre room. Not everyone was affected to the same degree, of course, but there was a communal feeling that something had changed overnight. The first lecture of the day was a pretty straightforward dissection of Othello, and we all sat through it more attentively than usual. I badly needed coffee after it, and almost brushed straight past Tilly; waiting outside the hall for me, in my hurry to get downstairs. She grabbed my arm and wrapped herself around me, causing me to stumble slightly, and fear for a moment that we would topple over in an undignified heap. She whispered to me that she needed to get away from everyone, and could we walk? I didn’t hesitate, and led her out towards the north exit, aiming just to walk up to the union buildings at Potterrow, which would be quieter at this time of day. She said nothing all the way up there, and resisted my attempts to go inside. “Let’s just keep walking, shall we?” she said in a voice I barely recognised as hers, so choked was it by emotion. I pondered my response for some time, and settled for: “Do you want to tell me about it?”