I’VE been to a few of these graduation affairs. London, Preston, Salford and now Newcastle upon Tyne.
Mine was long ago in the Royal Albert Hall, of all the unlikely places. The train from Manchester was delayed and we arrived just in time. I don’t recall much else, although dim memory has me stepping across that famous stage (Dylan went electric here!).
Photographic proof does not exist as the family camera failed to record the occasion. We didn’t arrange for an official photograph of young me in my gown and with a mortar board perched on those gone curls, and from this distance I have no idea why.
Our girl was swiftly photographed on her big day yesterday, urged to smile by the efficient snapper. When her pictures arrive we promise to have them framed, along with the photographs of her brothers, which have languished unseen in a cupboard for a shamefully long time now.
We arrived a day early in Newcastle and had the day to wander through that splendid steep city. My job it was to pull the family suitcase up and down those hills, a suitcase heavier than might have been thought humanly possible for a one-night stay in a Travelodge.
Newcastle really is a great city with all those bridges and countless fine streets, including Grey Street, conceived in the 1830s by Richard Grainger and John Dobson. This fine sweep of a street was recently voted Britain’s third most picturesque street, the top award going to Shambles here in York. Such comparisons are a little silly, but there you go.
We had a celebratory meal in a restaurant with a view along Grey Street and its monument, occasionally the site in Newcastle for right-wing numbskulls to gather in sullen protest, but not so yesterday, when it was happy and busy, with only taxis jostling for attention.
After three years we have got to know Newcastle and love the centre, so grand and impressive, even with a few tatty corners, and stunning down by the river, where the streets tip away and you glimpse the arches of the Tyne Bridge in the gaps between the tall buildings. Across the water, the silver curves of the Sage building wink and twinkle when the sun shines.
We stayed on the quayside behind the courts. After exploring the riverside market, with its many tempting food stalls, we ate the sandwiches we had brought, cheese, coleslaw and a slight sense of disappointment, as those stalls looked really appetising. After that we made up for this food oversight with coffee and cake, followed later by a drinks in a Brew Dog pub and then a pizza for me and salad for the girls. Yesterday morning, we fuelled ourselves for the day with a proper breakfast.
Northumbria University rather grandly calls its graduation an academic congregation. Everything went smoothly and it was fun to watch all those young people in their gowns, and a touch teary to see our girl in her new frock, looking lovely and nervous and excited beneath her mortar board. Being a girl every last detail had been planned weeks ahead. With one of the boys we had a last-minute dash to buy a smarter shirt just before the ceremony.
A small brass band opened the occasion, the academics trooped onto the stage in their gowns and comical caps. The speeches followed, nothing much to report there. Then we waited until it was our girl’s turn, her name one among many. Eventually we saw her stand in the distance (funny how you can spot your own children, even from a long way off). Five or ten minutes later, she queued on the stage beneath one of the two big screens that showed each graduate shaking hands with the university’s chancellor, Tanni Grey-Thompson, wheelchair athlete turned baroness.
Our girl had her moment and her name flashed up onto those screens. I fired off a series of phone shots that were blurred beyond usefulness. And then our girl was gone from the stage. Tanni Grey-Thompson gave an inspirational speech, human and funny – an atonement if you like for an earlier official speech which had dutifully listed the university’s academic achievements.
Outside was all popping corks and photographs with friends, smiles and hugs. The sun moved in and out of a darkening sky, but the rain stayed away. Not that long ago we marked our girl’s last day at primary school, her last day in the sixth form. Now here she was all grown up and graduated, the last of three and no more ceremonies to come.
After everything was done, we went for that meal with a view. Our girl had booked the table ages ago, asking for a window seat. Then it was time to return for that heavy suitcase, which bumped behind me all the way back to York.