This fortieth anniversary is of great value to me – and, I hope, to other Aberystwyth Alumni around the world. Then in our late teens to late twenties, we are now nearer Bus Pass than Student RailCard! What value have we, corporately, and singly, added to the world? I’d love to know…
So, raise a glass to all those who started as students, at the Coleg Prifysgol Aberystwyth, in 1976!
And, if you were one of my year, why not comment at the end of this?!
Forty years ago today (though, in fact, October 2nd was a Saturday in 1976), I set off on the long journey from Oxford to Aberystwyth to start my first term as an English and Philosophy student.
Even typing those few words brings back a deluge of emotion, mostly sunny and shiny and oh so hopeful; I can feel myself returning to the consciousness of the eighteen year old Alienora: So excited, full of dreams, slightly anxious – but mainly tingling with the anticipated joy of a new start, of adventure, of starting a fresh chapter in a beautiful place.
If you were around that year, you will, I am sure, remember that it was the hottest summer ever in the UK, with temperatures reaching well in excess of 30, often for days at a time. It was a summer of drought; of carpets of ladybirds; of jobs (in my case) looking after other people’s children; of getting, for my year group, A’level results – and, finally, on that warm early October day, setting off, with my mother, in the family Renault 4, for Birmingham New Street.
I can still see the sun-stroked waving corn as we drove through Oxfordshire; can still feel the combination of irritation and tenderness my mother, who could Talk for Great Britain (and did!), always inspired in me; can still sense the October residue of those months of vast heat settling, like a balm, upon my skin as we drove, windows open, towards the motorway.
I recall the train journeys (Birmingham to Crewe, and then Crewe to Aberystwyth: The End of the Line!) as patchworks of heavy luggage, fear, wonder and increasing freedom. I wasn’t someone’s little girl any longer; I was me, Ali, about to launch myself into adult life!
I am never sure about human love at first sight; but I know, from my own experience, that one can fall enduringly in love with a place straight away – for this is what happened to me.
It started as my little train bumbled over the tracks near Borth and Ynyslas, and over the golden evening beauty of Cors Fochno. The marsh colours seemed so wonderful to me, all those purples and dusky greens and enticing glimpses of wild hills and lips of sea with sun coins balancing upon them. I sat there, journal on lap, entranced and tearful. The scene epitomised my escape.
Arriving at the station as the sun began to set, looking up at the Penglais Hill, the far hills, the town itself and the mottled bruise of a magnificent orangey-gold, lilac and soft dove grey sky, I knew love, untamed love, poetic devotion. But this was not the careful rhymes of my Oxford grammar school girlhood; no, no, no; this was the raw and ancient beauty of Cynghanedd, and the full Bardic Tradition.
A bus met us. In we got, hordes of new young people, and up we went, climbing the Penglais Hill to the university campus. In those far-off days, most of the English Department was in the Old College – and only my Philosophy lectures took place on campus. Now, I believe, everything happens up the hill. A shame, if this is so, because there was something magical and atmospheric (and more than a little dangerous) in sitting in a big old room overlooking the wild grey reaches of the sea front and hearing the resonant boom as a high wave hit a window.
The following day, Sunday October 3rd, we were taken along the Promenade -and I can vividly remember the midday sun striking gold from the rivets and the blowsy blue of the dreaming garment of sky, and the floods of happiness which made me smile so broadly and, within my still-inhibited centre, dance and yell out and shriek joy at the ever-present gulls.
And now? Forty years on (though not to the day), I face another new start, once again in a lovely place, a place I felt an instant connection with – and, this time, my inhibited outer self having long gone, I WILL dance and cry out and be openly joyful!