Tuesday, 26 February 2013

30 years ago

Ah me, as the days lengthen, the old Alma Mater sends me the annual yellow book, telling me news of the Dreaming Spires and implicitly wondering if I've got a few quid. I normally send mine on to George Monbiot, in the hope that he may be able to recycle it. Or maybe the environmental game pays better than archdruiding, and he can help keep the old place standing better than I can.

The great dilemma, on receiving a college yearbook, is where to start reading it. The last year's sporting reports, full of how Bradshaw-Anketel-Jones twisted his ankle awkwardly in Cuppers and similar, with in-jokes about how the footie team only had a right wing, are never good. Likewise the Finals results. That Jezebel Watkins got a 2:1 in Greats and won the Marsley-Yaksworth Trophy is all very well. But unless you know Jezebel personally, you don't necessarily get the joke. Of course, it's nice that PK Purviss got a First in Theology, but you suspect he may have had a list of the Kings of Judah written on his arm.

And so I turn to the Obits, and scan down the "matriculated" column looking for 1983. I've the Matriculation photo to this day. The youthful, slightly baffled faces look down from my wall. Just 30 years ago, looking young, vulnerable, yet unmissably bright. Some are now controversial authors and journalists, many are company directors, some are the heads of minor statelets - and yet some have already passed beyond the bourne from which there is no return.

There's a mathematical harshness about Life Expectancy. And that's the truth of normal-iish distribution. Let's suppose the life expectancy of a Brasenose graduate is 80 - their good nutrition balancing out the dangers of Ivy Ale consumption, swimming the Isis after Athletics Cuppers and drinking port of purified lab alcohol, according to choice. That expectancy is an average.

Some, eschewing port and living off distilled water and lentils, may live to 100. But even for them, some luck will be required and, reaching 100 and looking back at a life full of lentils and short on port, they may wonder why they bothered.

But others will be cut short far earlier. Being, many of them, members of the Upper Classes, they will be disproportionately inclined to walking across polar wastelands. Some will simply never give up drinking a quart of port for breakfast.

And others will simply be terribly unlucky. Struck down in their 20s, 30s or 40s with something they never dreamed would get them.

The passing of one of those who matriculated in '83 will, in 2053, arouse among his/her old comrades a slight chuckle and the remembrance of the annual "Streak around the Deer Park", or the day the Robert Solway-Firth Dining Club processed around Old Quad in dressing gowns and sub fusc before solemnly circling the Radcliffe Camera and calling down judgement on that grumpy librarian. But the same passing in 2013 will invoke a shocked reaction. A passing wonder as to what got them. And then a sad feeling for the next few days. Somebody got unlucky.

People, we are all somewhere on that Life Expectancy continuum. Every one of us is a point on a normal distribution, not an average. We may break the silver thread in our 90s, or it might be tomorrow. Whichever it is, let's take it as a gift and make the most of it. Do something good, do something unselfish, do something inspired - do something stupid, if you must. We only do this once - whatever comes next - so let's grab it.


  1. Thanks for the reminder that every day is a gift and could be our last. Off to grab it.

  2. Ouch! My photo will soon be 50 years old and I know just what you mean.

  3. Living off lentils and distilled water doesn't let you live longer - it just seems like that

  4. Thank you... last paragrpah is perfect.

    No matriculation photos in London or Manchester (phew) but the memories are there, none the less.


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