It was my very good fortune to get on a train with the husband on Friday and go off to Oxford, to St Edmund Hall where he spent three years as an undergraduate. Like many of us, the husband had mixed feelings about the place where he spent some of his most formative years, and a little trepidation about returning, but he’d been invited to speak by his former tutor, whom he loved, and he wasn’t going to let her down.
I wanted to go too. I’d last stayed in college when I’d visited the husband when he’d been the boyfriend, back in the day, and I felt the romance of taking a room in college, again, albeit a double, ensuite with breakfast in the SCR.
Neither one of us was ready for what actually happened.
It was a great day.
It was lovely to have breakfast with the Principal, Prof Keith Gull and comedy writer Paul Powell, and to meet Prof Lucy Newlyn, who had organised the day, and who was thrilled to see the husband again. She was charming and funny, and couldn’t have been lovelier.
The day began with Emma Brockes, (The Guardian) whose ideas were so well put I’ll be regurgitating them for you in future blogs. We chatted. I liked her.
Samira Ahmed’s (the BBC) presentation on digital news, her candour, her fast-talking, relaxed presentation and her endless enthusiasm were hugely engaging, and her steadfast attachment to women’s issues and her unshakeable faith in feminism were very impressive. I have no idea where she gets her energy from, but I wish I had half her focus.
The day ended, perhaps inevitably, with Stewart Lee, who is as quick and funny in person as you might expect, but who has a quiet charm and humility that is decidedly disarming. I liked him immediately. I liked his honestly and his good sense. I liked his work ethic and his generosity. He had time for everyone, and, trust me, he was in considerable demand.
This was Oxford, and the event was open to current students and alumni of the college, so the room was buzzing with thinkers, and it was an enormous pleasure to be in an atmosphere where nothing had to be lingered over or explained, where everyone caught on quickly, where connections were made easily, where everyone always seemed to be on the same page, without necessarily agreeing with one another. It was exhilarating.
More than anything, though, I felt the camaraderie.
I was moved. Not only did Samira and Stewart, and one or two others of the husband’s contemporaries, reminisce easily with him between talks and over lunch and farewell drinks, but they readily included me.
More than that, a small, but significant cadre of the husband’s old cohort turned up to the event with the express intention of seeing and spending time with him. It had been years since he had seen them, but there were hugs and smiles, and soon everyone was talking and laughing, and enjoying each other. It was a real privilege to be in their company. It was like standing in bright sunshine, even when we sat long into the night and emerged in the rain, and it’s a feeling I shan’t readily forget. I can’t imagine how the husband must have felt, but I do know that we won’t be losing touch with any of these amazing people again any time soon... We’ll both make sure of that.