If you want to feel young, visit the seaside in February. If you want to feel old, go back to your university in June.
Yesterday, I did the latter. Following a morning of what some would describe as 'work', I found myself in my old university town with an afternoon to spare. Brilliant. I'd not been back for years, and the weather was good, so it seemed the perfect opportunity for alookaround a far distant chapter of my life. But, as things turned out, I might not have picked the best day for it.
Yesterday was the university's Open Day, where the potential Class of 2009 were invited to come along and see what makes the place tick. The town was therefore full of wide-eyed 17 year olds, some in large groups and others with chaperoning parents, rambling the streets in search of enlightenment. They wandered into departmental buildings, they mustered outside residential halls and they wondered what it might be like to spend three years of their life here. I was dying to tell them.
I headed back to my old college to find an 'Open Day' sign on the door, and the hint that ordinary visitors weren't quite welcome. "But I used to come here," I told the member of staff by the gate, and he believed me and ushered me inside. Nothing whatsoever appeared to have changed, apart from the age of the undergraduates. When I was here they all used to be roughly my age, and now they looked at least 25 years younger.
A gaggle of girls in the garden were asking their guide how difficult university work could be, and almost certainly not getting the answer I'd have given. Two visitors emerged from spending a few minutes in the library, and thereby probably already knew the place better than I ever did. A rear courtyard offered a rare moment of nostalgic privacy, until two smartly-dressed lads wandered through discussing, of all things, linguistic philosophy. I was very tempted to see whether the payphone on staircase 6 had been removed through lack of use, and whether the single microcomputer in the basement had been replaced by a roomful of PCs, but I resisted. I felt very much at home, but simultaneously I knew I was completely out of place.
Back at the entrance I had the nerve to stop, briefly, to chat to the undergraduates who were part of the welcome party. They were all wearing polo shirts with their name and subject on the back, so I was able to direct my comments to a girl now doing the same subject that I'd taken. "Hello," I said, "I was you 25 years ago." She looked at me blankly, and continued to do so even when I explained further, as if I were some irrelevant vision from an unknown past. Which of course I was. The real future was picking up prospectuses from the table beside me and dreaming of graduation in 2012. And I was old enough to be their Dad.
I headed back out into the town, older and wiser. I think I need to plan another visit to the seaside.