This weird thought actually occurred to me three weeks ago but I haven’t had a moment spare since then in which to share my weird thought, that is until now.
Three weeks ago I joined my sister and niece on a trip to Exeter University for the open day for prospective students.
My niece is considering Exeter. She is in the upper sixth (Year 13 in new money). I am a former student of that University so she was happy for me to join her and my sister on the open day. As I had been there 1990-1994 I was eager to go with her and visit the city I had lived in for three years of my life. Living quite a long way from Exeter now, I don’t get many chances to visit.
Before going, I hadn’t quite expected to feel as much emotion as I did at seeing the University grounds. I had made some visits to parts of the University since leaving but only for short periods, usually en route from the seaside resorts of Devon to back home. This was the first time in twenty years I’d had the chance to walk all over campus, mingle with people of student age, visit the shop, smell the library (yes, it really does smell the same), wander around halls of residence dwellings and walk up the hill to the gym.
When I was young, as most people when they are young, I thought nostalgia was a little bit sad in the pathetic sense. To me back then, nostalgia meant parents and friends’ parents putting on records from the 1960s and looking wistfully into each other’s eyes, perhaps doing a little bit of embarrassing dancing around the sitting room. It was eye-rollingly cringey. Somehow, I, along with my contemporaries, thought I’d be immune to nostalgia. Then a few years passed. I got a proper job, got married, had children and sprouted a few grey hairs. The 1990s turned into the new century, and time didn’t stop there. It kept going. Suddenly, I found myself in the year 2014.
Nostalgia has finally caught up with me now at the age of forty-two. Perhaps at a certain age this is inevitable. I am starting to think that this is true.
Walking around the main campus at Exeter evoked strong memories of my time as a student there: Friday Night Lemmy, cider in plastic pint cups, coffee in DH, withdrawing £5 from the Midland Bank machine, walking up cardiac hill and mutant baked beans in Hope Hall. Visiting the accommodation block I stayed in during my final year, I turned into gibbering sad old almost-middle-aged wreck. Meandering from the main campus to the house I lived in for my first year brought forth the strongest memories of all. As I did that walk, as a forty-something year old with three children, I saw the eighteen-year-old me walking with dread, clutching my folder, to the weekly mathematics for economists lecture, hoping that there might be a letter from my best friend in the pigeon hole in the main dining hall waiting for me.
I told almost everyone we came across at that open day: ‘I came to Exeter in the early 1990s!’ I would have thought me very sad twenty years ago. I knew I was being sad yet I couldn’t stop myself, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I saw myself through my niece’s seventeen-year-old eyes and I cringed.
Just before we left, I bought an Exeter University lanyard, an Exeter University mug and an Exeter University bag. I am sad and I don’t care. I like nostalgia.