“I’m not shaking HIS hand,” said the newcomer.
The owner of the hand, a QC, is a man accustomed to the vagaries of humanity. But he looked pretty startled all the same. Drawing on his first pint in The Eagle, the newcomer explained that in the midst of his Finals in 1971 the future QC, whom he had not seen since, appeared at his door one evening to say that, since he had not attended a single lecture on the subject of the following day’s paper, he needed the newcomer’s notes.
“But I’m using them for my own revision.”
“I have to have them.”
“Alright then. But not before midnight.”
The next morning, the newcomer had drawn back the curtains and looked down to see the future QC pacing round Main Court, the lecture notes in his hand, trying desperately to absorb their contents.
“But the really galling thing”, he said with sudden good cheer “was that he got the same bloody 2:2 that I did.” Only he may not have used the word bloody.
We were in The Eagle to ensure we didn’t arrive entirely sober for the Members’ Reunion, 1967-70. It proved to be a wise precaution, for we were about to get a shock. Attending to one of her last official duties, the previous Master gave a speech in which she noted that it was “almost 50 years” since we had matriculated.
A cry of protest went up in which disbelief mingled with defiance. But we were the Sixties Generation, for God’s sake. We grew up with Bob Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’ ringing in our ears. How could it possibly be nearly half a century?
Those who had visited the display of memorabilia, thoughtfully laid on in what was once the JCR, knew it was. Freshmen’s photographs don’t lie. And, anyway, most of us who dined that night on St Catharine’s famously good food and wine raised a glass at some point thinking of a contemporary who had fallen along the way and had not had the chance to accept the college’s generous invitation.
Such reunions are joyful, yet sobering, experiences. They remind us we are all shuffling through this mortal coil and will one day shuffle off it. We leave Cambridge to become lawyers or authors, CEOs and vicars. One in a hundred – no, more like one in a thousand – will do something remembered by future generations. But the great colleges like St Catharine’s don’t shuffle. They stand. For centuries. They stand through war and plague; the overthrow and restoration of the monarchy; the building and relinquishing of empire. It is humbling.
John Hooper (1968, History)