Old girls reunion
I have never been very keen on 'alum' events. I know that the new world of university fundraising means that it is very important to keep the old boys and girls feeling bonded, and I am genuinely interested in what my old students are doing (how could you not be? what they are doing in 10 or 20 years time is probably a better guide to your success than how many Firsts and 2.1s you get). All the same I'm still dont feel I'm made for the 'class of 73' style of culture. And I've got a long history of this. When I left school, me and my best mate were the only refuseniks who wouldn't join the Old Girls Association. (Actually I got caught on this one: I eventually got so curious about what they were all doing that I fell into the arms of Friends Re-United.)
That said, getting back together on your own terms is fun. So on Saturday six of us who had been true mates at Newnham in the mid 1970s met for lunch in leafy Harpenden. Some of hadnt actually seen each other for 35 years. (It was, as you will see alcohol assisted...).
What were we all now doing? Well the tally went like this: a GP (the hostess), a civil servant in the Dept of Health, a lawyer on a career break, an agricultural scientist, a psychotherapist, and me.
And did we still get on?
Yes indeed, and it was tremendous fun (even though I was keeping an eye on the phone to check for news from the boy in Cairo). But more interesting was the level of apparently spontaneous agreement we had about 'the world' -- and especially on 'the cuts'.
We were voluble in our unanimity at the short-sighted narrow book-keeping measures that were going on, that were all likely to cost the public purse MORE in the long run. The press can tut-tut, for example, about the expense of letting the over 60s roam the country for free on the buses -- but if you think of the cost of local care and support for those miserable and stuck at home, it is cheap at the price (AND it is fun AND it acts as a form of subsidy for the bus routes).
As for the NHS itself, those on the front (and back) line had no doubt that the reforms were effectively a privatisation. The mantra of 'free at the point of use' would no doubt be preserved, but behind that the whole system was gradually (or not so gradually) being handed over to profit making companies. A public service doesnt just mean whether you get your hernia fixed for free...it is also about the absence of a profit motive higher up the foodchain. Where was all this going to leave the mentally ill? the elderly? and all the other troublesome and unsexy and longterm sick?
Much the same went for free schools and the like. Toby Young might be dead keen on setting up a school now, but you can bet anything that when his kids hit 18, he will quickly lose interest. In fact, one of the reasons that schools have been run by the state is that we need them to be in the hands of those with longer term interest than the average parent.
And so on...
So why this unanimity?
Maybe it was simply because we were like-minded...we were friends and like-minded back then, and so we are now.
Or maybe (nasty thought this) we were all trying to make the occasion a success that none of us dared step out of what appeared to be the common line . . . but I dont honestly think so. I dont really think there were any radical free-schoolers and anti-bus-passers around the table.
Or maybe, I like to fancy, it was the result of a good, sensible woman's education -- that, in all our different subjects, had taught us to see through crap arguments. Thank you Newnham?
Meanwhile as we flicked through the photo albums, we realised that we had all lost touch with Sarah Robertson (S. C. A. Robertson, as I recall). She read Maths, then escaped to Social Anthropology. If you're out there Sarah, pipe up... or if anyone knows what she is doing. I've tried googling, but there are rather too many Sarah Robertsons in the world.