In October 1973, a large cohort of (mostly) young people aged 17-19 left their homes with varying levels of street wisdom under their belts and dampness behind the ears (not to mention essential life skills such as being able to manage money and cook. Ed.) to embark on something that was going to change their lives for ever – studying the BA Modern Languages course at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, now the University of Wolverhampton, a matter that was going to occupy us for the next four years until the summer of 1977.
Just shy of 50 years later, twenty-two alumni plus partners (including some who are also Wolverhampton veterans. Ed.), some travelling from as far away as New Zealand, and seven of our lecturers all assembled for a significant anniversary celebration back in the city that grew up around the site of an abbey dedicated to St Mary founded by Wulfhere of Mercia in 659 and in which they studied from 1973 to 1977.
The hair may be greyer or diminished in luxuriance, the limbs less lissome, the waistlines somewhat stouter, but the same personalities still shine through the physical changes and laughter and good times prevailed as they did all those decades ago, even though some of the party had not seen each other for over 45 years instead of the 5 years since the last reunion.
This time your ‘umble scribe travelled up to Wolverhampton on Friday afternoon; and it proved to be worth the effort, allowing plenty of time to settle in and relax instead of the mad rush of arriving on the day and then scrabbling to get ready in time before sitting down to meat. After a meal and a couple of lemonades at nearby hostelries, it was back to the hotel where we kept the barman busy serving us brown beverages of various shades.
Saturday dawned far too early, but any lack of sleep was cured by an excellent breakfast, assisted by the excellent company. At lunchtime, a small party gained access to the room where our revels were to take place, to decorate it, sort out the seating plan and ensure that the music and visuals worked properly.Two o’clock on a warm Saturday afternoon saw a large group of alumni assembled in front of the oldest part of the university – known as The Marble for a campus tour led by David from the Alumni Office. Since our time, many of the university building that we remember have been demolished and replaced by more modern facilities. Long gone are the wooden huts and the perishing cold St Pater’s Hall (which the the polytechnic shared with a vegetable wholesaler. Ed.) Part of the tour took in secure parts of the campus and for this we were joined by David from security who’s worked for the university for nearly two decades. His tales of student high jinks revealed very little has changed over the decades/generations. Finally, any Wolverhampton Polytechnic/University of Wolverhampton alumni who have not provided their contact details to the Alumni Office or need to update them can do so here, whilst back copies of the alumni magazine can accessed online too.
The traditional Saturday night celebratory meal saw new directions and a new dimension. Firstly, the usual disco was dispensed with and replaced with Sheila’s Spotify playlist as background music. This meant there was no need to SHOUT TO HOLD A CONVERSATION. 😀
Secondly, much mirth and merriment was occasioned by the presence of an inflatable Selfie Station photo booth complete with props – silly hats, inflatable musical instruments and the like.
Last but not least, your ‘umble scribe had volunteered to compile a video slideshow. Comprising mostly photos from our student days, this 32 minutes’ long movie was played on loop throughout the meal until coffee was served and we reached the speeches slot. For the nerds, the slideshow was compiled with Imagination, “a lightweight and easy to use slide show maker” for the Linux and FreeBSD operating systems. Similar software is available for other, more common operating systems. Those whose photos were not used will be pleased to hear there is mofre than enough material for another slideshow for the 50th anniversary of our graduating in 2027.
Feedback on the meal itself was most appreciative and it was possibly the best our gatherings have enjoyed to date.
With coffee served, it was speech time, with former assistant head of department Alan on his hind legs for a few well-chosen and thought-provoking words. These ranged from the benefits of a period of residence abroad, including not only gains in maturity, but also finding common ground with one’s hosts, primitive hygiene arrangements in 1960s Spain, the difficult relationship of Britain with the rest of Europe and the continuing need to teach and study other languages in a world where English in the de facto lingua franca.
Once the applause died away, MC Dave leapt up to respond and in amongst the anecdotes of student life during our mandatory year abroad, which featured broken sanitary fittings and a visiting England rugby league team, he found time to propose a heartfelt toast and tribute to absent friends – both staff and students – who had not survived to join our revels that weekend. Many remarked afterwards that Dave is a natural public speaker, so well done mate!
Celebrations continued well into the small hours on that warm and sunny June evening with the moon and stars shining down before it was finally time for bed.
All in all it was a brilliant weekend and my gratitude goes out to all my fellow attendees for their kindness, generosity and company. We now have a couple of years off until planning for the next event needs to start.
Of course, events don’t happen of their own accord and a fair bit of time was spent planning in various Zoom sessions. Your correspondent would like to express particular thanks to the following:
- Sheila, Paul & Gwenda for the bulk of the organising;
- Sheila (again!) for the Saturday evening playlist;
- Whoever arranged the flowers for Paul and Gwenda;
- Dave for relieving Paul of master of ceremonies duties;
- Alan for his speech;
- Jill for her exhibition of course paperwork and photographs;
- Jane for liaising with the alumni office and arranging the university tour; and last but not least
- Anyone who bought me a drink! 😀
Final bouquets and brickbats
First the bouquets. Your ‘umble scribe is indebted to: the staff and management of The Mount Hotel for being so welcoming and accommodating (the food was excellent! Ed.); the Westacres for feeding nineteen of us on Friday evening; the Swan Inn for their splendid draught Banks’s Mild and idiosyncratic urinals; David of the Alumni Office and David of security for the university tour; the weather gods for their lack of wrath; and finally, the good folk of Wolverhampton for filling my ears with the music of the Black Country accent and dialect.
Brickbats (so no links. Ed.) are awarded to: Cross Country Trains, First Great Western, London Northwestern Railway and Network Rail for making the British Railways Board of yore appear a model of efficiency and punctuality. Other attendees who endured railway hell are invited to add the names of the guilty parties in the comments below.