I have just left the car in the visitors car park and am walking towards the main reception at Heriot-Watt University. I have just driven past the massive new sports hall area and now half the car park is disappearing under a new building too. Such is university life nowadays, continuous change and improvement. We are here to see my son play in the Scholar’s Concert, an intimate affair held at the Chaplaincy. My wife was here last year so we know seating is limited, indeed space is limited and I am a bit on edge about being squeezed into a packed venue.
We walk past bus stops full of chattering students queueing to catch the maroon and white buses back into the centre of Edinburgh. The main HW campus is past the edge of the Edinburgh ring-road enclosed conurbation but is served by many frequent buses. I am feeling the cold on my bare legs; well it isn’t too cold really but I am tempted to pull my sock up due to the wind chill from the strong winds. The students (is it only the older students that catch buses?) are oblivious to the cold of course, but then again I was like that over thirty years ago; I think I still have the red volleyball shorts and yellow vest top I use to wear somewhere though I can’t image the shorts fit a waist grown by 5 inches since those days.
We are now walking down the steps toward the reception building, though I notice a ramp has been built on the side, it was a new campus university but still old enough to avoid any disability access requirements when it was built. I am feeling what? Nostalgia perhaps? It is a warm fuzzy feeling I always get when I enter university buildings. I am reminded perhaps of one of the happiest times of my life (eventually, initially they were also the place I twice considered suicide), times when I was free of commitments and times when I had many good friends some of who are still in my life. This is a place where one can keep learning for no other reason than to acquire knowledge (though HW is one of the more practical universities), I belonged in places such as this.
I navigate through the building towards the chaplaincy centre. It is obvious student union election time, there are poster everywhere but boy has the quality of those posters improved. In my ancient times, posters were coloured if they were printed on coloured paper and were usually A5 in size. Now A2 seems to be the default size and coloured printers mean that some are a match for professionally produced advertising. My partner pops in the toilet and I stand reading some of them. Students seem to be doing more nowadays too. It’s not just a matter of will to campaign on a particular theme, these guys are showing the amazing experience (can this 4th year psychology student really have achieved all this?), look amazing (perhaps all twenty year olds look good when one is nearly fifty), and are promoting coherent manifestoes on multiple levels and points (no just introducing three-legged bar crawl races then). Where do they get the time to study?
The chaplaincy is up thirty or so steep steps though I guess you could get a wheelchair up the road the other side (when did I ever think about wheelchairs when I was twenty?). It is quite busy, obviously some curry event is on which students standing around and chatting (I wonder if there is any spare food, get real this is a student chaplaincy). The concert is in the chapel itself which is in fact smaller than I would ever imagine for a university this size. We have arrived twenty minutes early and easily get a seat but we are far from the first. The room fills up around me and the noise levels increases. I am aware of my protective shell going up around me, isolating me from the room, and I do a self-check on my state. I am doing okay. I even briefly acknowledge Friday’s appointment without going over the edge, yes, I think I can sustain this for quite a while. Then suddenly the person sitting next to me talks to me and as if from nowhere my external nice guy speaks and converses for a few sentences. I feel like I have a split personality, but perhaps Mr nice guy is the protective shell I am feeling. It is a different way of looking at my situation.
The anxiety though evaporates once the musicians and singers perform one after the other. I close my eyes and focus on the performance. There are no music courses at his university, the scholarships are designed to improve worthy student members of the community orchestra and choir based on the campus. The programme is so varied in the period of the music or song and style and most of the ten students are accompanied on the piano. An hour and twenty minutes later and they have all taken a turn.
What a great concert performed by people whose main interests lie outside of music, well worth the pain before and after. Some of the students were stunning, one of which just happens to be my son. He looked so relaxed and at one with his viola something I will never achieve with my own choice of instrument, and his sonata was an absorbing crowd pleaser judging by the applause he received afterwards. Now I am wondering if I am allowed to be proud, well allowed or not, I do think he is rather wonderful.