Ninetieth birthday parties
I suspect that if someone had told me thirty years ago that there were such things as ninetieth birthday parties, I would scarcely have believed them. It's not that I didn't realise that some people lived that long -- I just didnt imagine that they would still be in party mood.
Just how wrong can you be? In fact, my recent experience has suggested that the later "big birthdays" are rather more fun to celebrate than the earlier one. For a start, the drink is usually hugely better at the average seventieth than at the average twenty-first (even if Mummy and Daddy are paying). And also they dont tend to be full of people getting off with each other/not getting off with each other/ splitting up drunkenly etc. They are in other words rather more straightforwardly "fun".
Anyway, Cambridge people tend to be a long-lived breed, and I have had a good few ninetieths over the last decade or so. One of the most memorable was the celebration for Frank Walbank, the editor of Polybius (and on whom I have a few words to say in the next issue of the TLS).
The real shock on that occasion on that occasion was that the speech in honour of the birthday boy was given by his old Director of Studies, Bertrand Hallward, still then going reasonably strong. I remember walking away and thinking how weird it must be to reach ninety and still have your old teacher there and patting you on the head. It must feel like you'll never be allowed to grow up.
(The truth is MY old Director of Studies is still happily with us -- in the blue outfit above -- and in her mid-90s; though she'll be a venerable 120-something if she makes it to my own ninetieth, supposing I ever get that far).
Anyway, yesterday evening a whole group of us turned out for the ninetieth birthday of Greta Blake (she who is successfully wielding a stick and a glass of fizz above). Greta used to be the admin. secretary in the Museum of Classical Archaeology in Cambridge -- back when I was an undergraduate. And some of my friends had arranged a surprise party to mark the day.
It was of course a wonderful prompt to reminisce about the old days, when the sub-department Classical Archaeology had its own building, for the plaster cast collection, library and lecture room (which is now Peterhouse theatre, on the right). It's now all integrated with the Classics Faculty in the new building on the Sidgwick site.
Back then almost everything was different: you could smoke in the library (and indeed most of the teaching staff did); the museum assistants made drinks for those students taking Part II courses at coffee and tea-time; we patiently sat through more lectures on the "Alexander Mosaic" than anyone would now believe possible; and on Saturdays the middle-aged and vastly over-weight Hugh Plommer (who also had a quirky line as conservative rhymester) would take his favourite students, usually female, on car trips around local architecture (which, innocent as they were, would be frowned upon now).
It was over this rather colourful show that Greta presided from her typewriter (sic) in a room that doubled as office and library -- and about which we chatted among our cups last night, speculating as we went on just how long it had taken the vast Hugh P (yes, "Huge" of course was his nickname) to get up the stairs to to his garrett office.
And here is the best photo of him (who would be well over 90 himself now, had he lived....) I can find.