The nearby university is buzzing again. Thousands of young people in the park, the coffee shops (in my seat!), and the library. I don’t envy them. They have a lot of fun ahead, but ridiculous costs, lots of hard work and uncertain futures. Also, hangovers.
I came to Belfast as a student in 1983. I was anxious about leaving home, what university life might have in store, and about being in Belfast at all. We used to take the odd day trip to do the Christmas shopping, and stock up on that Boots soap that Herself liked, but I’d never been in Belfast at night. A country girl, scared of trouble, who took a long time to venture outside the university area.
The front buildings of Queen’s University are gorgeous, and the quad behind is somewhere I still love to sit. During holiday time it’s almost empty and I can see our younger selves charging through to lectures, the library or the union bar. The people I still see regularly, the people I haven’t seen since, and all the others. It feels like a lot of my life was forged at this place.
There were no fees. For a brief period there were grants. Heady days of long queues to collect the annual student card and the grant cheque, and at the bank. Carrying bundles of books because we weren’t allowed to bring bags into the library. A well worn card index. Special classes in my final year to introduce us to computers. (Hello PC, meet speccy)
I don’t think students live in houses without central heating anymore. They probably don’t need to use communal showers in the students’ union. Many have cars. Even so. Despite the huge leaps in technology and the changes in scary Belfast, I’m so glad I’m not starting off as a student on an arts degree now. I’m middle aged and cosy, and glad of it.