My university days. They seem like such a long time ago now. In fact, if you said how many years to any of my children, they would inhale sharply and shake their heads in quiet confirmation that I really am ‘that old.
I would love to sit here and say that it doesn’t feel like that long ago, but sadly that isn’t the case. I have lost count. But I always love returning to the city of my student days. Usually, it is a flying visit and I rarely see the outside of a hotel or the occasional shop if I have time. But this weekend was different.
Three whole child-free days in the city that saw me take my first taste of independence, get a degree and grow up (well a little bit at least). So I grabbed that opportunity firmly and I have walked miles over the last two days, in between meetings and sleeping, retreading old ground.
Manchester has changed so much. It has evolved and still evolving judging by the numerous cranes on the horizon. It is a long time since I was a student that but as I strolled away from my hotel, I was looking for signs of the city I knew, but they were in short supply. The university is completely transformed as I would have expected, it is bigger and better. I walked around, thinking back to those many times that I ran along those paths, late for lectures or those crazy nights in the Student Union. I was quietly relieved that it was Saturday and I could wander around on my own and not have to battle with hoards of students.
Then the walk back to the city centre. Oxford Road. Again, the landscape had changed but there were familiar sights, landmarks, buildings that were still there amongst the new. This was a path I walked a lot as a student. And cycled. It was a relief to see the cycle lanes had been improved as I have many not so fond memories of near misses on my bike with the many buses that fly up and down that road.
There is something quite cathartic about retracing old steps, seeing familiar sites. Reflecting on those years, the work, the social life, the snogging. There may have been a few boys along the way. The days in the park reading French novels, the early morning cycle rides to the rowing club in Sale, the fabulous pancakes at the Dutch Pancake House, the trams.
Thinking back to that version of me, I must admit I smiled to myself as I remembered what I wanted out of life back then. I was adamant that I would never have any children. I was sure of it. Thankfully, I didn’t stick to that. French was the subject I was studying, but my dream was to write, that was the only thing I ever wanted to do. That hasn’t changed either. French took me into teaching, a job I still love, but writing is part of my life too. If I had known back then that I would be a happily married mum of four and a teacher, I think I would never have believed it. Life didn’t quite turn out how I expected it too back then, but I am happy and that is the most important thing, after all.
As the sun sets on this weekend escape, I will head back to normal life with a smile on my face knowing that I have made the most of my time in Manchester. As much as I crave time to myself every now and then, it is a slightly odd feeling, being on your own when you are so used to being with your family. However, I know only too well that if I was ever here with the kids, they would roll their eyes and sigh at being forced to see places from my past that they have absolutely no interest in, so I will tell them about it and they will be far more interested in the fact that I stayed in Hotel Football with a view of Old Trafford than any of my nonsense about revisiting places from my past.
They will understand one day.