One of my grandmas worked at a Cambridge College – if I ever knew exactly what she did there, I have long forgotten; but it involved a uniform with a blue nylon housecoat, so probably not the Dean. I remember going there with her sometimes in the summer holidays, fidgeting impatiently among the dark oak pigeonholes in the Porters’ Lodge or reading comics on the riverbank.
When my aunt got married one summer, the wedding reception was held in the Old Hall: more oak panelling, some florid Victorian wallpaper, a minstrels’ gallery and stained glass. As a bridesmaid, I was corralled into a flounced peach-flowered dress, hair nailed in place with a hundred stabbing hairpins. But after the service and the speeches, and the interminable photographs, the party got properly started and I skulked away unnoticed to sit alone in the warm stone cloisters on a perfect July afternoon. Bees were buzzing in the pale pink roses, with their backdrop of supernaturally perfect lawns. For half an hour or so in a long, manic and noisy day I was superbly content, sat on the worn stone flags with my pinching new shoes hidden under a bush, eating trifle, watching the flickering shadows of people walking down the street on the other side of the college gates.
Eventually I was dragged back for the dancing and the fetching of drinks for an assortment of half-known relatives, and I don’t think I ever went back there afterwards.
It’s fair to wonder if there is any point to writing about this, I’m hardly sure myself. Maybe it’s just filler, one more attempt to justify this tired and half-hearted vanity project. Or perhaps it’s pulling the random good bits out of the strata of life for a change, instead of the failures, fears and regrets; dusting them down and seeing them still bright, for all that they were unlooked for and unremarked.