The Old Boys' (and Girls') Magazine
There is something disconcertingly gripping about those glimpses you get of your old friends and enemies, and of their successes, from alumni/ae magazines. They are a bit like round-robin Christmas letters, a bit too full of successes, but -- though we laugh at them -- we read them none the less. It sort of explains the one-time success of Friends United, which I did from time to time consult, with a combination of humility and Schadenfreude.
I have missed out on my school Old Girls magazine, because my best mate and I were the two who put up our hands in that closing meeting in the school library and said that we did NOT want to join the Old Girls’ Association ( a big mistake I now realise). But I do still get my College equivalent.
These little bits of ephemeral literature have changed over the years. My own college’s used to be deeply austere: barely a picture and lists and lists of names, and of births, marriages and deaths, that would have meant nothing to an outsider, or even an insider who wasn’t looking for someone special. They have brightened up a good deal, with chatty articles about the college now, reports from the JCR president, of what happened at the May Ball and how the new building is shaping up. I am pleased to say that Newnham’s version of this genre has successfully resisted that awful “company report” look that so many similar versions now ape. It will come as no surprise to the editors that I could do without so many pictures of babies of alumnae (one of my far more illustrious predecessors said that she liked babies, but she liked their mothers more) – but it’s a minor fault within the genre.
The odd thing is, of course, that – for all the new gloss – it’s the obituaries that are still the most gripping thing: that snapshot of lives short and long, ambitions realised and thwarted, and achievement and implied bitterness in almost every sense. This year’s collection ranged from the well-known Lisa Jardine to the obviously extraordinary Stella Ambache (the first female GP in Chislehurst, which I bet was hard work); from born and bred Cambridge girls to those from Sudetenland, New York and Hong Kong (Newnham’s been multicultural for its whole history); from those committed to an unimaginable degree of service (“during the harsh winter months she was know to walk to school and back when public transport was cancelled due to heavy snow carrying her pupils’ homework with her so she could mark their work in the evening. A servant always…”) to those who you suspect must have felt that they were born just a bit too early (“Had she lived in a later generation she might have become a barrister”).
But the aggregate of all these dead women’s achievements couldn’t help but make me feel just a little bit proud of my own college (and also, of course, to have that awful fast forward moment to when people would be reading about me).
The new version is here: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/old-boys-girls-magazine/