A major event on an increasingly busy summer calendar was the Princess’ Graduation Bash, which took place last Saturday at the Bridgewater Hall in Mancunia. It was best bib & tuckers (whatever they are) all round as we piled into the car and set off up the M6.
My Dad – now a sprightly 87 – was along for the ride, which assuaged a certain amount of guilt I’ve always felt for missing my own graduation. When I should have been in Newcastle for that, I was actually on a ferry between Stockholm & Helsinki with a gaggle of tourists in tow as I whizzed them round the highlights of Scandinavia. It would have been very difficult for me to (literally & figuratively) jump ship to be at my own ceremony, but I’ve always felt that I denied my folks an opportunity to show a little parental pride, so my Dad’s presence at his grand-daughter’s graduation was a partial recompense.
MMU or ‘ManMet’ is such a huge institution that 9,000 students graduate each year and the ceremonies go on for a whole week. Saturday’s event was the last one of the week and featured Law & Social Sciences, Languages and Politics, pretty much in that order, so as a Politics graduate, the Princess was right at the very end of a 75-minute ceremony.
We were joined by the Princess’ boyfriend and found our way to seats up in the Circle. The whole thing was being recorded on video, so there were numerous close-ups of nervous students fussing with their gowns and mortar-boards juxtaposed with shots of doting parents and excited younger siblings. After a bit of musical fol-de-rol on the Hall’s pipe organ, the dignitaries took to the stage, all wearing gowns and hats straight out of a bad Harry Potter pastiche. There was much tugging at forelocks in the direction of the Dean and the whole thing had a slightly comic opera freemasonish ambience. I expected the Lord High Executioner and the Three Little Maids to appear at any minute. Maybe it’s because MMU was formerly a Polytechnic that they feel they have to pour on the gravitas and the fancy dress – or maybe they’re all like this; I have to say I wouldn’t know.
Once we got going, however, the whole thing soon became tedious beyond belief as student after student went up to shake hands and enjoy their moment in the spotlight. MMU has a very multi-cultural intake and what was very noticeable was that there were large numbers of students with Chinese names who were ‘in absentia’. This was something of a relief as we would probably have been there for 3 or 4 hours if they’d all turned up. For the extrovert few whose friends and family cheered as they went up, there was a brief salute to the gallery but there was thankfully only one eejit who decided it would be the thing to do to kiss the Dean on the cheek rather than just shake her hand.
Finally the Princess’ big moment came and despite being very nervous earlier, she put her best foot forward and carried off her moment in the spotlight without a hitch. Rather sadly, she finished her course without ever making any real friends among her coursemates, but that’s probably down to MMU being such a vast and slightly impersonal institution with a high proportion of local, home-based students as it is with any social shortcomings on her part. Anyway, it didn’t seem to bother her that she was unable to chuck her mortar-board in the air with a bunch of her mates once we got outside.
In fact, once she’d dropped off her costume, we quickly jumped into a cab and headed off to San Rocco in South King Street. I ate there quite a few times when I lived in Manchester in the 70’s and 80’s, at which point it was called Cesare or something along those lines. It’s a tad pricier these days and I would call it a ‘special occasion venue’, but the staff were friendly and the food was excellent. I actually had a chat with the maitre d’ before we left. He had been there for nearly 30 years and our paths may well have crossed back in the day. As he reminded me, in those days, Cesare was the only restaurant in South King Street; now there are 5 of them. This is perhaps a worthwhile measure of how the Princess’ experience of Manchester has varied from my own. Of course, I wasn’t a student there, but it was altogether a grimmer, greyer place in those days. Despite that, it was still a great city, but nowadays, it really looks like one as well.