I had come from a very sheltered background - a fairly typical West of Scotland Presbyterian home where the parents, thinking they were doing the best for their offspring, trailed them to two Kirk services on a Sunday to help protect them from the evils of the world when really they would have been better letting us be exposed to them. So my memories have to be seen in the context of this rather naive teenager who knew little of the ways of the world, or a university, let alone those of the swinging sixties!
Looking back now, I truly wish I had been older and more experienced when I went to university but perhaps I wouldn’t have had the same experiences and I would be responding differently now.
Firstly, I remember the Inauguration Dinner where I refused a glass of wine never having drunk it before but then spent the latter part of the evening lugging around a drunken acquaintance who attached himself to me because I went to the same school as him in Ayr. First evening at Stirling and that was my reputation up the creek!
The community of Pathfoot. Everything was centred round this building – learning, eating, socialising. The library was in the best bit of the building and although on many occasions I was totally unaware of what I was meant to be doing, that didn’t stop me for a minute realising that we, as students, looking out over the Carse of Stirling, must have had the best view of any university.
Beauty wasn't confined only to the outdoors at Pathfoot. The building was/is beautiful. Within, there were secret little courtyards, some with sculptures. In the corridors, refectory and in the Crush Hall there was some amazing art. Years later, I fell in love with JD Fergusson’s work and almost felt an incomprehensible affinity for some of his paintings. It was only later I understood that some of his finest works had hung in Pathfoot and that daily I had been exposed to them. Tom Cottrell, although a scientist, believed strongly that art should play a significant role in and have an influence on the daily life at Stirling
Who remembers the rush to watch “The Magic Roundabout” in the coffee lounge where Gladys and Nancy worked? They in their own way dispensed wisdom and wit to match any to be found in the lecture theatre.
Is there anyone out there, probably History or Sociology students, who remember the “Cabbage Party” held at my flat with fellow flatmate Kate Vallely? I don't know where the idea was born, but we decided to have this crazy party where all the invitees had to perform their own little piece, a bit like a Halloween party. The difficulty was that the content had to be about cabbages and in the days before Google search, it’s amazing just what people came up with. Apparently Margaret Doyle, as she was then, has a reel to reel tape recording of the event. What was really great about this event was that the staff and students who attended all enjoyed (at least I think they did) the silliness of the whole thing. Professor Waddell, who had just joined the History department, I remember was particularly enthusiastic because he was able to meet with students and staff at the one party. I didn’t realise at the time that that sort of thing where staff and students mixed so much socially didn’t happen at other universities. At Stirling we were used to that and looking back we were very fortunate.
Alangrange, being a student/staff club, was an extension of that ethos. It was managed and looked after by Ann and George Donaldson, and that was where I relaxed with friends at the end of the day. There was a beautiful piano upstairs that anyone could use and occasionally concerts were held where anyone could perform. I did on one occasion, with the aforementioned Maggie Doyle who played her part of the duet beautifully but because I had needed some liquid courage before I could play, (the tee-total bit didn’t last long) I was all over the place. It was the first and last time that anyone has heard me play in public but says a lot for the ethos and the accepting nature of the club members that we felt that we could.
On the theme of music, perhaps some alumni remember the choir concerts conducted by Professor Howie. One took place in the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling and I think we sang Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. There weren’t many of us in the choir and I think most of them were mathematicians (why is it that maths people are usually good at music?) but we seemed to make a pleasant sound.
Two other abiding memories remain both concerning Tom Cottrell. A few weeks into the term I was invited to dinner at Tom’s house in Bridge of Allan. Each Sunday evening of that year, six students were invited, and I suppose by the end of the year, all of the first year had been invited to join them for a meal at some point. That meant a lot of Sunday evenings - and a lot of cooking. I distinctly remember entering their beautiful house and subsequently the dining room with its table laid out in a sumptuous fashion. I was unused to such styles of eating and slightly panicked. But that didn’t last long because it was obvious that Tom and his graceful and gracious wife had done their homework by researching a little the background of the students. It’s funny that that night has left such an indelible memory on me and I don’t think I ever let them know how much I appreciated their kindness. When I heard about Tom’s death, I was devastated and deeply saddened. I didn’t know him well but when you met him in the corridor, he always greeted you and smiled. How many university students ever referred to the Principal by his Christian name as I am doing here? In later years, I became more aware of the struggles that Tom and Professor Holliday had behind the scenes both physically and mentally in getting the idea of Stirling off the ground.
How then can I sum up my memories of the University? My former flatmate Nan, in her usual fashion, seemed to be able to encapsulate it very well. “We thought we were immortal,” she said. I suppose we think we are although deep down we know that’s rubbish. What I think our memories do is take us back to our youth, and you know, it was a great time we had at Stirling. And special. We know we are mortal but my goodness how privileged we are, we were, to have been students at Stirling in that first year with all the wonderful people there at the time. Did their energy rub off on us? I am convinced of that. So Tom, 50 years on, here’s to you! You would have been proud of your children of the Class of ’67.