Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Going Soft ... on the Toilet Paper

It was back in 1973 that I last went to Keele University. That is, until yesterday. 35 years ago I had just finished a degree course at Keele. Leaving behind the university campus that had been my home for the previous four years, I caught a train to London - where I, somewhat bizarrely, took up a job as the Committee Clerk of the London Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) - and never returned. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Alexander had the last of his four interviews for Medical School, and it was at Keele. I happily volunteered my services as chauffeur in order to have a good excuse to go back. By ensuring that we got there a good two Alberts before his allocated interview time (I inherited an obsession with pre-punctuality from my father, and the time periods for me arriving in advanced of an appointment are known as "Alberts" in recognition of the fact), I had time to explore my old haunts and reflect on how the life of a student had changed in 35 years.

There are, of course, a number of structural, physical changes. It's bigger than it used to be and now has gleaming glass and concrete "innovation incubators" where sheep used to graze. What isn't given over to the cutting edge of venture capitalism is giving over to car parks so that the venture capitalists have somewhere to park their sports cars. The heart of the old campus, with its Student Union building and University Library, looks a bit like most hearts do after fifty years : tattered and tired. There seems to be less spirit, less sensual joy, less belief that you can change the world : but perhaps that is just me being an old fart. Keele Hall (first picture) used to be a central part of the campus. We would eat meals there, have tutorials there, and, on at least one occasion, occupy there. Now it looks like it is reserved for short external courses and corporate seminars. Nobody seems to have occupied it for many a year.

I tried to visit my old room (Lindsay H Block 4) but I couldn't get through the security doors so I had to gaze up at from outside. Did I really spend four years of my life in that small room? The Astronomy block is tatty, the Chancellor's Building is small. It is all a bit sad. Killing time and waiting for Xan to emerge from his interview, I picked up a copy of the Student Union Newspaper. There had just been elections for the new SU President and Vice Presidents. I read their short manifestos. One had promised to have a greater selection of food in the Union Cafe. One wanted GLAB's (whatever they may be) to be more involved in running the Union. One chap had been elected Vice President based only on the promise to try and get the University to have softer toilet paper in the Halls of Residence. As far as I could make out, this statement was presented without even a hint of irony.

But maybe this generation is right. We never managed to change the world. Perhaps they will manage to change the toilet paper.

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