At 7 am last Saturday I boarded the first X5 of the day at Gloucester Green. This near-legendary bus service has been carrying loved-up students and impecunious academics between Oxford and Cambridge for as long as I can remember. It takes three and a half hours to get there (you can drive it in two, if you put your foot down) taking in the less-than-glorious sights of Bicester, Milton Keynes and Bedford on the way. But it is seriously cheap: I bought my ticket via Megabus and it cost me £6.50 return. That's practically Indian.
I was heading to Glorious Trin, to take part in the '30 years since we let girls in' celebrations. I first of all thought I wouldn't go: I have written before of my ambivalence towards the place. But a couple of my friends asked me if I was up for it, and I got a special 'we thought you might be interested' note in the post, probably because I was Women's Officer one year. It was written by hand, in fountain pen (I smudged it to check). I found my resolve weakening.
And I also started thinking, actually, this *is* worth celebrating. Cambridge was founded in 1209. It started admitting women OVER SIX HUNDRED YEARS later, in 1869, but didn't actually let them have degrees until 1947. Trinity (founded: 1546) held out until 1978. Thirty years is a drop in the ocean in Cambridge time. We should be taking up as much space as we can.
So I said yes, please, thank you very much, I would like to come to luncheon and High Tea and intervening discussions about the changes that have come about over the last three decades and the work that is still to be done. Hell, how often do I eat luncheon? And what *is* High Tea? I was rather hoping it would feature Pimms, as I had never had it before I went to Cambridge, and I have still never had better.
And I'll be honest, I had a great time. I was worried it would be full of the kind of people I spent three years avoiding, but on reflection, most of those were men. It was, frankly, weird to be in a room full of women in a place that is, or at least was, so very, very male. It was a very warm experience, and a very interesting one, as of course pretty much everyone was also seriously clever. The formal discussions had their moments, but the best moments for me were the stories that came out in the spaces in between. Some were sad... a college boyfriend's suicide, institutionalised sexual harrassment in the City, lives derailed in other ways.
But most of them were anything but sad. These are not, on the whole, women who've had a hard time. These are women who were fortunate enough to get an education at one of the finest universities in the whole damn world. I could never quite believe they let me in, that it wasn't some kind of mistake, or at least a giant fluky stroke of luck. If there's anything I really took away from going back, it was that lots of women who have passed through that massive gate over the last 30 years felt exactly the same way. And that most of us who did have never forgotten it, have taken that feeling and done something useful with it. That's got to be worth something.
Later, I caught up with my friend J, who lives in a seriously cool house full of huge windows and hidden terraces. I admired it so much I fell down the stairs. I barely felt a thing at the time (thanks to the Pimms, and the post-Pimms visit to the Maypole, and generally being overexcited) but the next day I woke with a giant bruise on my left buttock, and made my way back to the X5.
It was a bumpy old ride home. None of my playlists were long enough -- I had to fall back on On The Go.
Love Resurrection - Alison Moyet
You Know I'm No Good -- Amy Winehouse
32 Flavors -- Ani DiFranco
Wouldn't It Be Nice -- The Beach Boys
On Your Own -- Blur
Chimes of Freedom -- Bob Dylan
Growin' Up -- Bruce Springsteen
Beautiful -- Clem Snide
Pictures of You -- The Cure
Information Age -- Damon & Naomi
Don't Want To Be Part Of Your World -- David Byrne
Waking Up -- Elastica
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised -- Gil Scott Heron
Going Underground -- The Jam
Hurt -- Johnny Cash
Night Boat To Cairo-- Madness
Cinnamon Girl -- Neil Young
Us and Them -- Pink Floyd
Common People -- Pulp
Only the Stones Remain -- The Soft Boys
Hippy Chick -- Soho
Silent All These Years -- Tori Amos
Black Steel -- Tricky
Moondance -- Van Morrison
From The Heart -- Weddings Parties Anything
Seven Nation Army -- White Stripes
Sweet Soul Dream -- World Party
Freedom Suite -- Young Disciples
*(with apologies to Beth)