It couldn’t have been a lovelier day for it. On the other side of the High Street, by the Radcliffe Camera, people were basking in shorts and sandals under an unexpectedly bright blue sky. I pushed hesitantly at the unmarked wooden door that memory told me was the right one, and it gave way to a scene as instantly familiar as if I’d never left: the sun-trap of Main Quad, overlooked by rows of windows, with its impeccable green lawns and sudden hush. I was back in the Tardis-like time capsule of Univ, where every corner is overlaid with memories and there is something, or someone, to recognise wherever you look.
Over the hours that followed more than 150 of us converged there, dragging suitcases, hunting for half-remembered staircases, looking around us like a cross between freshers and old hands. We took in what had changed: the pristine glass banisters and mod cons of Goodhart, the gorgeously revamped Master’s Lodgings, the security arrangements. We took in how much was the same: the students swotting in the Law Library, the luxuriant magnolia in full bloom, the creamy, dreamy, otherworldly beauty of the place we had once been lucky enough to live in. We took in each other. We hadn’t changed that much, had we? It seemed we had not. Thirty-odd years might have gone by, but it was as if we’d barely aged at all.
This was a reunion on a grand scale, the first Gaudy since the pandemic, a gathering postponed from March 2020, and it was a privilege and a boon to be back. We were warmly welcomed into the Master’s Lodgings for tea hosted by Baroness Valerie Amos, the Master, and then some of us, me included, made our way to the Chapel to take part in the scratch choir. We had an hour to prepare the songs for the evening service, and Will Whitehead and Simon Toyne charmed and coaxed and encouraged us through it. “I’m picking up a shy C from the sopranos there,” Will said. “Don’t be afraid! Remember to breathe and sing!” And we did. Candles were lit, and we prayed for peace. And then out we went into the evening, into Main Quad where the daylight was already beginning to fade, then upstairs for drinks and then, finally, into the Hall for dinner.
The sound of it was intense: the gathering, rumbling roar of dozens of long-delayed conversations, like some gigantic beast gradually coming back to life. We simmered down for the fine after-dinner speeches from the Master and Andrew Ayres, and bridled humorously at the suggestion that we were now, in fact, middle-aged. Us? Not us! After all, just look at the wine-glass-catching skills on display from the middle table, where full glasses of red wine were adroitly saved from disaster, not once but twice! Then we made our way down into the hubbub and press of the Beer Cellar, to swap stories, reminisce, and miss the people who, for one reason or another, had not been able to come.
Eventually, in my room overlooking Logic Lane, I slept soundly and woke grateful that the ghost of Obadiah Walker hadn’t troubled me. Someone had told me the night before that he haunts Durham Buildings, and has been known to disturb more recent residents by pressing them on the chest in the middle of the night. It seems there’s always more to learn when you go back to college, even if you sometimes need to take it with a pinch of salt.
We rallied for breakfast and gathered once more in the Hall, bright now with sunlight, then handed back our keys and passes, took final photographs and said our goodbyes. The past we had conjured up again was beginning to dissolve. It was time to leave our old home from home behind us. I stepped out through that unmarked wooden door by the Porter’s Lodge and found myself alone again on yet another glorious spring day.
As I made my way down the High Street I caught the distinctive echo of Roy Park’s raspy, cigar-smoky voice, quoting from The Mill on The Floss: “If the past is not to bind us, where can duty lie?” Well, the past does bind us. That much was clear because why else would so many of us want to make the journey to return, leaving behind all of our different lives for a brief spell of time in the place where we were young together? It’s certainly nothing to do with duty. Creamy stone and magnolia and music and the light in the hall aside, it’s the people you go back for.
Alison Pindar (1991, English)
“Univ looked wonderful, bedecked in blossoms and green with spring, and I felt as I stepped into the Hall as if I had landed in 1991 again: as majestic and inspiring as ever, the Hall was again filled with joy and laughter, and with the people I’d last seen there thirty years before! Passing around a copy of our freshers’ photo (albeit now on a phone screen) and sharing people’s delight as they identified themselves and others was a wonderful moment; catching up with lifetime friends and meeting some fellow students seemingly for the first time, I was reminded what a dynamic and thoughtful group the students of Univ have always been. It was a joyful weekend and made me proud all over again to be associated with such a wonderful place.” – Kate Hamblet (1991, English)
“What a splendid 24 hours: stepping through the imposing wooden doors to be greeted by friendly, smiling, faces in the quad, recognising old friends, making new ones, dining underneath the familiar portraits of august leaders and benefactors, together with the charming, lively, photographs of the impressive young-old members. Really, it was magical to impose new favourite memories of good conversation and laughter over the old, no less beloved ones. Thank you for a delightful weekend.” – Kimberly Crouch (1988, History)
We hope you enjoy this gallery of images from the gaudy.
Published: 13 April 2022