We returned to my old Oxford college yesterday for what was described as a ‘family fun day’. I’m still not entirely sure exactly what the event was for, but it was an opportunity to arrange to meet up with old friends and that was good enough for us.
Things have changed a lot in the 20-odd years since we first met. Expanded waistlines. More salt than pepper in the hair. Three weddings, four sons, four daughters and three people carriers between us.
And, of course, the students get younger with every passing year. There is no way we were ever that young – some of them looked as if they might still be in nappies, let alone have actually left school.
Then again, they probably looked at us and wondered who these senile old fogeys were. To be fair, they’d have a point. As far as the history of a 700-year-old college is concerned, we’ve long since faded away – even more so than some of the chalk markings celebrating past Eights Week glories.
Despite what these photos of Toby and Kara might suggest, they did actually enjoy the day.
We sat in the college garden drinking weak coffee and watching on as the kids ran around playing games and being entertained by a magician. I don’t know if he actually did any conjuring tricks, but he kept a group of about 40 kids completely transfixed for a good half-hour. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.
We adjourned to a restaurant for lunch – table for 15, anyone? – and then for ice cream before heading our separate ways. Toby contributed to the fun with a comedy ice cream moustache and a quick play in a child’s Mini can’t solve. (What’s not to like about finding a Mini pop-up shop?)
It was one of those good days. Where the grown-ups don’t have to try too hard, even though in some cases it’s a good two or three years since we last saw each other, because you’ve been friends forever. And where the kids either form new bonds immediately or pick up exactly where they last left off, as if it was only yesterday.
Coming up and living among the dreaming spires as a freshman student – 25 years ago this year in my case – I’m not sure exactly what hopes I had at the time for how life would turn out. And although I’ve had plenty of low points and setbacks since then, it’s impossible not to feel that things have turned out pretty well. Sometimes, though, you need to revisit the past to remind yourself how far you’ve come since then.