Back to the future

Next month, I’m taking Child Two to see my old university, St Andrews. No one is more surprised about this than me. I’m surprised to be going back there for the first time, surprised to have a daughter the right age (or almost) for uni and surprised that she’s interested. Most of my stories about St Andrews have involved the unbelievable cold we endured there – the Scots, at that time, were not into central heating – and I’m convinced that it wasn’t until I’d been back down south for a couple of years that I actually could feel my feet again. I’ve had an unhealthy interest in knitwear ever since and, even now, rarely venture out without a cardigan even in summer. The girls have been more or less sewn into woolly garments from birth and my current hobby is crocheting more blankets. You’d think they’d be heading for the University of the Caribbean, but no. Both are interested in St Andrews.

It’s not hard to work out why. St Andrews is one of the most beautiful places on earth and I am sure that my four years there spoiled me aesthetically for ever. With its ruined castle crumbling into the sea on one side and an 11th century cathedral collapsing elegantly on the other, the tiny town of three streets nestles close to a wild coastline. Every day, I would walk along the ancient stone pier. You could sit at the end with your back to the town and feel as though you were a part of the rolling waters, meeting the louring Scottish skyline. It was stunning. Even now, I balk at ugly places. When booking a hotel for our stay, I couldn’t bring myself to check into the cheapest, nearest to the station and shops, solely on the grounds that it looked like one of the grimmer branches of WH Smiths.

Age and memory are funny things. There was a time when I had no wish to go back to St Andrews at all – it was the scene of too many complicated strands of my life. But, as soon as the prospectus arrived the other day, I realised my misgivings had turned to nostalgia. And the odd secret smile. I remember vividly my grandmother telling me that the sea air must be so healthy for me. I agreed, not  saying a word about the 20 cigarettes a day I was then getting through.

Nowadays, of course, my past has been airbrushed again for my girls, and in turn I certainly want to believe they’ll benefit from the lovely sea air, while never touching cigarettes, booze and worse. Maybe I should start crocheting them extra jumpers now.

Bits of the cathedral at St Andrews


The castle by the edge of the sea


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