In June 2018, Oxford University got its first taste of a Bespoke Verse rhyming speech!
It was a real joy to return for the weekend to Exeter College, Oxford where I was an undergraduate from 1987-90 (and later a PGCE student from 1994-5).
As a teenager, I lacked the confidence that having children and running a business has since given me. I would have been terrified to stand up at high table and speak in front of my peers at Oxford all those years ago. But 30 years later, at my 'Grand Gaudy' (reunion), I was invited to make the after dinner speech and I embraced the challenge.
Fortunately for me, some very kind friends responded to my begging emails and contributed their memories of college life in the late eighties. I am so very grateful to these women whose memories are a lot better than mine and thankfully, gave rise to some hilarious anecdotes.
Along with hundreds of other familiar faces, I enjoyed revisiting the old haunts and seeing what student life is like in 2018. We relived our late teens and early twenties. The music, the relationships, the drinking, the fun and the academic work. We even experienced a 3am fire alarm which meant we all had to spill out onto the quad in states of undress - the fully immersive experience indeed!
As I pointed out in my speech, student life has changed. Hugely! I'm delighted to report that women and men attend in equal numbers now. In 1987 we were outnumbered 2-1 and the atmosphere was a whole lot less 'PC' but nonetheless safe, entertaining, stimulating and truly special.
We never had ensuites, computers, iphones or the internet. We wrote letters, queued for phone boxes and spent days working out what books an author had written instead of retrieving that information at the touch of a button. We browsed libraries and bookshops, wrote essays in biro and would never have dreamt of paying for coffee.
But revisiting reminded my of how absolutely magical it was to be in such a beautiful and cultured environment. And how leaving it was such a huge wrench.
I was reminded by the whole experience that we're always growing, changing, learning. And that there are certainly advantages to both youth and age. The important thing is to make the most of the opportunites that come your way.