“What,” asked the young lady filling my champagne glass, “is it like to come back after so many years?”
So many years! So many, many years!
Last weekend was the 50th anniversary celebration of the opening of our alma mater, York University, and we spent a long weekend resident on campus and participating in various bashes. To be honest, neither Margaret nor I had any great expectations of the event. Its predecessor, 5 years back, had never quite taken alight, and we knew that very few of our own immediate circle would be there. Some are dead, of course: some did not relish the idea at all: some booked, then lost their nerve and pulled out.
But we went, with, as I say, no expectations. We just felt that – well, the 50th would only come round once, and it was rather special all those decades ago to be among the first of the few. There were only 216 of us, and the tudor Heslington Hall to put us in – and of course we all lived in digs. Having no tradition of student accommodation, York’s good burghers kindly opened their spare bedrooms and front parlours to us, for the huge sum of 63/- (that’s £3.15) a week, B&B and full board on Sundays.
So going back seemed – well, obligatory. And what a weekend it was! The sun shone on the lovely yew-tree lawns of the old Hall, for the Pioneers’ (intake of ’63, ’64 and ’65) event last Friday. The champagne flowed, and so did the conversation. And, of course, we sought out and caught up with many of our generation; but also, unexpected delight, we met many we’d never met before, including current students (see above) and we were enriched by the contagious affection and disparate memories of all those generations. 50 years is a long time.
We all wore huge ID tags with our names and year writ large, and everyone coming near read these first, and faces second. Rapidly we who bore 66-plates (we were identified by the year of graduation) became kind of minor celebrities. “What was it like?” was the inevitable question; and we, liberated by champagne and our own celebrity, told them!
It was, of course, a marvelous time and place to have been alive, and no blog could possibly do justice to thrill of revisiting those unique, favoured, special memories. But take my word for it, York in ’63 was an astonishing, magical place to have been – life defining.