Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Uni nostalgia...

I’ve just spent a bloody lovely weekend with old friends from uni. I love the fact we still keep in contact and all make an effort to get together now, but the annual reconvening of us all as a wider group is a relatively recent thing.
I went to university in a very small town in the middle of Wales. Chances are you won’t have heard of the town, Lampeter (unless you’re a peer of my time there!). But I can guarantee you’ll heard of a nearby town, Llanddewi Brefi, yes, as in the Little Britain “Only gay in the village” sketch. When I was at uni Little Britain as a show didn’t exist, and I never had cause to visit Llanddewi Brefi, kinda wish I had though.

The town itself is tiny, although having just looked it up on Wikipedia it tells me that Lampeter “is the third largest urban area in Ceredigion after Aberystwyth and Cardigan”. This surprises me greatly, and actually made me laugh out loud. But, now I think about it, although the town centre itself is tiny, the outer lying areas are quite sprawling so it’s probably bigger than I give it credit for! The university is a large part of the town, and adds a significant amount of people to the population between October and June each year. Sadly the university as I knew it no longer exists, it’s still there as an academic institution but owing to its incredibly small size, it was merged with Trinity University College and the subjects and facilities have changed somewhat since my time there.
But, the purpose of my post today isn’t to give you a history lesson of the university, the Wikipedia page gives you that! My point of reference here is the people I met, the friendships I built, the overall experience I had, and the legacy Lampeter has left with me.

I started uni in Sept 2000, to study English Literature and Classical Studies. The choice of subject was simple for me really, I loved English at school, always had done, and I’d having chosen Classics as an A-Level I was enjoying it and it was one of my strongest subjects. I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do with my life career wise, but had a genuine interest in studying the subjects further (and move away from home) so when my Head of Year (who I had a great relationship with and was almost a friend to me, well as much as a teacher can be!) mentioned Lampeter as having a great Classics department, I checked it out. I made a quick visit, fell in love with the place, made the entry requirements in my exams and I was off.

All my friends who were also going to to uni were off to big city ones, Sheffield, Manchester, York, De Montford etc, and I was heading to the smallest one in the country. Lampeter Uni was smaller in terms of numbers than my high school. But sure, that was part of its appeal?  I wasn’t a city dweller, never had been, and I was looking forward to a small community of students. What I didn’t factor in was just how small the community was…!
I’m a friendly person and will talk to just about anyone. (Yes, I know, you’re all shocked by this and thought me the quiet, retiring type)  As such I didn’t have any issues making friends with the people in my hall, but as my first year progressed and my personal circumstances changed, I realised I needed a job to be able to survive. The union bar recruited every year, so having some bar experience before coming to uni I applied for a bar job and got it.
The acquisition of this job significantly increased my social circle, although I didn’t realise it at the time. Although I got on well with everyone I worked with, other than Jo, I didn’t hang around with anyone I worked with beyond work itself.  Yeah we used to have a wind down after work and have a good few drinks together in the small hours of the morning after we’d cleaned up etc, but my main socialising remained with those I lived with. Looking back, I’m not really sure why this was. I graduated in 2003, and kept in close contact with those I’d lived with for my time at uni, but I lost contact with those I worked behind the bar.

Fast forward to 2006/7 and the emergence of Facebook.  I re-connected with a few of the people I’d worked with behind the bar in Lampeter, and the relationships grew. Then in 2009, 2 of them (who’d met at uni) announced their engagement and the wedding would be back in Lampeter.  I was honoured (and genuinely surprised) to be invited. Surprised for the main reason that although I’d gotten on well with both of them, and we’d reconnected through Facebook, I’d not seen them since leaving uni in 2003. My acceptance of the invitation was an easy one, the only thing I was a bit wary of was the fact that I was returning to Lampeter, essentially on my own, and this worried me slightly. Yes, there’d be a good few people there I knew from my days behind the bar, but again, we’d not seen each other since 2003. We might hate other now!
I needn’t have worried, the wedding served to remind us all just how much we all got on, and I think the weekend made us all wonder why we hadn’t kept in contact as a larger group. Sure, there were pockets of people who’d kept in contact over the years, but not as a wider group. We had an amazing weekend and got up to some good old Lampeter mischief, much to the chagrin of the townsfolk, and we all walked away from the weekend promising we’d get together again soon. It’s easy to make promises to keep in touch but for it then to fall by the wayside, but we were all true to our word and since the wedding we’ve met up at least once a year.
Possible aformentioned mischief. Yes, that's a fountain, and those are bubbles..
 I’ve changed a lot since university, but one thing I realised at the wedding was that the others had changed too, and I was glad we’d had the chance to reconnect. We’ve all split off and done very different things with our lives and 3 of the couples are still together (there are actually a significant number of couples who I knew from Lampeter that are still together!).
Some of us did the same course, but we weren’t all in the same year.  The common demoninator between us all is working behind the bar, or for the door security. We had our own little community and we all have great memories of various shifts, events, clientele and of the university in general.

It’s interesting to speak to other friends about their experiences at their different universities, as although they all speak of those 3 or 4 years with fond memories, and some are still close friends with people they met there, my experiences at Lampeter are somewhat different. I’m not saying my experiences were better, just very different. My busiest week of my 3 years of uni contained a whopping 11hours of lectures….11 hours! There were only approx 1500 people in the entire uni. We had one bar, and one ‘extension’ (the clubby bit). We had about 4 buses a day through the town if we wanted to visit the wider world of Camarthen or Aberystwyth. The nearest cinema was in Aberystwyth, (about 40 miles away). You’d groan at the thought of having to walk ALL the way from your hall of residence to the supermarket, because it was all of a 5 minute walk but in Lampeter terms that was MILES away. We had films screened in the Arts Hall most weeks because the cinema in Aber wasn’t accessible for everyone. But they wouldn’t be the most recent ones, a few months old generally. The phone signal was abysmal; you’d change networks once you arrived to be on the best one (O2 or Orange if I remember rightly). If you stayed in town accommodation you could just about guarantee that Mr Jones was your landlord, and it was the same guy, smelt very strongly of farm manure, wife owned the café on the High Street. There were no real clothes shops to speak of, one kind of hippy place, and one that got random bits of clothes but nothing really suitable for students! And if you wanted videos, DVDs, CDs or records you went to Hags on Bridge Street, a shop run by the town Mayor that acted  as a lending library for DVDs etc.  I could go on but you get the general idea.

In its own little way Lampeter was awesome. You knew everyone, everyone knew you (not necessarily a good thing!). You were never more than a 5 walk from home, unless you ventured up to the Cwmann Tavern or the Quarry (and even then they were only 15 mins!). And a vodka and coke in the union bar cost you £1. When we went back in 2010 for a wedding, it was still only £1.20. No joke. I think there were 7 of us in the group before the round in the pub cost more than £10.

The same fountain 12 hours later....
The town itself hasn’t changed much, same people, same format. The university itself is very different though. I genuinely think we were one of the last good sets to attend. A few of us in the circle stayed on for a few years because of work for the uni itself and they said it changed. The merger with Trinity college has been a big contributor to this, with less students staying on campus. As such, the union isn’t open every night like in our day, and the social scene is very different, also contributed to by the fact that all rooms have wifi now. We didn’t have this luxury, to use the internet we trudged to the computer building then it seemed only right you’d stick your head in the union and see who was in. If no-one was, you’d chat to whoever was working. That’s just the way things were. It was awesome.
I have very fond memories of Lampeter, and always will have. I built some very strong friendships there, as did a lot of my peers. And I’m very glad that the little bar community has gotten together again. Since the wedding in 2010 we’ve not been back to Lampeter in our group….we need volunteers for the next wedding there! Otherwise we’ll just head back and cause some more havoc, amid the crys of “Bloody Students!”, said in a very thick Welsh accent.  Oh the memories!

Am with a different set of uni mates this weekend, one of whose son I’m godmother to. See, strong connections...

Until next time, take it easy.
Much love.


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