Writer Elaine Morgan recalls the day she became an Honorary Fellow of the University.
If you’d been in Aberffrwd Road on July 17 2007, you’d have witnessed the arrival of a Mercedes Benz, no less, and emerging from number 24 my son Dylan who’d come down from Leeds, and my grand-daughter Tan whose father has just emigrated to Greece and who came down from Anglesey, and me. This car purred us down to St David’s Hall in Cardiff, where we bulldozed our way in through a solid mass of humanity emerging from a previous event, and were directed to the Robing Room. There I was enrobed, preparatory to being made an Honorary Fellow of Cardiff University. They found a robe to fit me (the first was far too long) and a hat (the first was too small) and I could then subside on to the seating accommodation, which was low and inviting, very comfortable to sit on, but the devil’s own job to get up from.
In the great hall were serried ranks of students waiting to receive their degrees, and their friends and families there to watch. From where I sat on the platform you could see the expression and body language of each one as they walked along the red carpet of the platform.
There was something significant and moving in the sight of these young things – from my standpoint they seemed as young as newly-hatched chicks – preparing to set out into an unpredictable world. In my day our elders and betters could tell us confidently what to expect in the future. Today, elders and betters can’t do that. And we know we can’t.
This was only one of a week of similar events, and later there was a posh black-tie dinner to which all those receiving fellowships and similar honours were invited, together with other influential people from across the board, representing the arts and the sciences, the media, the law, civil servants, private enterprise, voluntary initiatives – in short, communicators, organisers, promoters and facilitators of all kinds. Universities are expanding at remarkable speed, and providing a forum to bring together these widely differing movers and shakers is one of the functions that Cardiff University seems to be taking on.
There’d been coming and going between St David’s Hall and the hotel, and throughout all this I’d been pampered like a queen, by people saying things like “Would you like me to hold the scroll for you?” and “Take my arm on these steps” and “Let me carry that.”
So at the end when the taxi arrived, I couldn’t remember where or when or with whom I’d left my handbag, and somebody had to go back and look for it. Now I swear I’d had only the white wine – I passed on the brandy – but I caught the expression of a passer-by. What he thought here was a tottery old trout too far gone to know her arse from her elbow. Never mind. I’ll still have the photographs, and they tell a different story.
Elaine Morgan is a writer whose work has been recognised with three BAFTAs, two Writer’s Guild awards and a Prix Italia. She was honoured with the Writer of the Year Award from the Royal Television Society for her series of Testament of Youth, a dramatisation of Vera Brittain’s war autobiography. She has also been awarded the prestigious Letten F. Saugstad Prize for her contribution to scientific knowledge.