Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Bristol Reunion

Some weeks ago, I received a message from somebody I hadn't seen in thirty years suggesting a reunion of the housemates I lived with during my second year at Bristol University. How I came to be living with these people was pure chance.

I struggled badly during my first year when I quickly realised that degree level chemistry bore little resemblance to the chemistry I had enjoyed at school.  I loved being away from home but academically, I was not thriving. I suffered with depression and although outwardly I may have seemed perfectly fine, I was not coping well. I persevered with the workload but completely failed to give any thought to where I might live for my second year. By the time I realised my error, friends who may have been willing to share a house with me were already sorted so I wandered to the Accommodation Office alone to see if they could help.

There was an advert in the window. A house share for 8 were looking for 2 more students to make up their number. A chap who I recognised as a bit of a loner from a neighbouring Hall of  Residence was reading the ad. We got chatting and decided to put ourselves forward as the 'two'.

And so I went to live with six complete strangers and someone I vaguely knew.

We did not stay strangers for long and in the way of destiny, one of those students became an incredibly important person in my life. (I married another and had four daughters with him but there is no happy ending to that particular thread!) We all went our own ways.

The idea of a reunion was incredibly exciting. My ex husband, father of my four daughters was not part of the reunion and neither was the only other girl in the house (someone I never really bonded with) or the chap I met looking at the ad that started the whole adventure but a fellow chemist and close friend of the house was. Six of us in total. Six students now in their fifties with thirty years of life lived since we had last been together.

I don't know if it is being fifty that has given me a new perspective on life and a new confidence or if it is more to do with the fact that generally I am in a good place with a husband I adore, four incredible grown up daughters and two wonderful little ones that give me nothing but joy. I never once worried about what my old housemates would think of me with the inevitable grey hairs and wrinkles or if we would have anything to talk about after the first few minutes of niceties. I did worry slightly about the logistics of child care, getting myself to Bristol and the fact that I needed to be in Brighton the following day with my husband for a 9.30am start to run the Brookes 10K race.

Nothing is impossible. I planned to drive down to Swindon on Friday night to stay with my lovely friend Rose and take the M4 across to Bristol on Saturday morning. One of my girls was to take the Saturday nightshift looking after the little ones while my husband caught a train to Bristol. We would then drive down to a hotel in Gatwick (hopefully before midnight) to get a good night's sleep before an early start to Brighton.  Another of my girls was to take over the babysitting leaving us free to run our 10K then visit the father in law to help him with a few jobs. A 5hr drive home to Shropshire would mark the end of a very busy weekend!

The thing I should have been the most worried about was the Friday night drive to Swindon. An abandoned vehicle on the M5 meant a LONG delay. But I survived.

It was wonderful to be back in Bristol. Some parts had changed beyond recognition since my student days but other parts were achingly familiar causing memories that had lain deep in my brain to jolt to the surface. I chose a very familiar landmark to wait for my friends - The Wills Memorial Building.

I sat outside and watched the steady flow of pedestrians passing me by. Once or twice I caught sight of a salt and pepper haired gentlemen and wondered if it might be who I was waiting for but there was no recognition. And then I saw them - the band of five - marching up the road towards me. It was a glorious sight. They were certainly no longer the boys I remembered but the smiles on their faces and the twinkles in their eyes melted away the years until it felt like the most natural thing in the world to greet them with the sorts of hugs you don't want to end.

Fast Forward thirty years...

And Now

We reminisced, we caught up on thirty years of career and family news, we laughed... a lot... and I immersed myself in the company of these five men for whom I have the deepest affection.

I feel so blessed to have people like this in my life - people I might never have known were it not for that ad in the Accomodation Office window. Interestingly, none of them could remember placing the ad which makes me think it must have been my ex husband who was responsible for it. I wish I could thank him for that.

Photograph by Jeremy Randell

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