Branch Blog from Aberystwyth OSA

‌‌It is the end of January 2016.

Inside Old College, here in the Old Students’ Room, something new is about to begin…
Considerate porters led by Stephen have made the room toasty-warm, and the film of grit and sand which is whipped in through the edges of the West window have been wiped from the sill and the bookshelves.
Around the elegant table you can see a group of people who are mainly bespectacled, silver-haired or bald, all sharpening pencils, arranging erasers, magnifying glasses and sheets of paper for each person. Their hands freshly¬ washed, (soap and water, please- no hand gel!) they wait for instructions to begin their task, as they had once waited anxiously many years previously to put pen to paper in the old Examination Hall.
However, on this occasion, the mood in the cosy OSA Room is light-hearted and convivial; there is an air of easy friendliness as pleasantries are exchanged between members of the local OSA Branch.

We are here to pool our knowledge and memories of students, staff, places and events which are recorded for posterity in photographs held in the University Archive. A great number of these lack identifying features such as dates, locations or names: ahem!We all take heed and vow to make suitable amendments to the bundles of family photos tucked away at home for our sons, daughters and anyone else who has to sort through our stuff when we’ve gone.

Some of the group photos before us give us an immediate starting point with a title, e.g. Carpenter Hall1950-51, and as we carefully uncurl a long roll, mimicking the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Voila! We have Pantycelyn Hall 1964-1965!
Indeed our excitement probably matches that of eminent archaeologists discovering evidence of the distant past .But what we’re engaged in is investigating a past which involves us with a passion and intensity that we all share, and which we might for the moment call ‘the Aber Spirit’.

Among our group are old students representing the decades from the 1940’s to the 1970’s.There is a babble of cheerful noise as we begin to recognise and name friends, fellow-students – ourselves!
Oh! Look at her frock! And those shoes!
Can this bloke with a flowing beard possibly be ‘Twm Makarios’? Pass the magnifier please!
Now where on earth was this photo taken? There’s Prof Treharne, and his formidable wife, Mrs Prof Treharne J.P.- seated solidly on a chair for Goodness’s Sake at some ruined castle! Could it have been a History Department trip in the mid-fifties perhaps?
The voices are more subdued as we exchange information about deaths, divorces and the diaspora of our former colleagues.

‌We are firmly brought to order by Julie Archer, University Archivist, who is leading us in the serious task of recording our findings. On each record sheet we note a code corresponding to that on the reverse of each photo being studied. Then we apply ourselves to being consistent in noting individual names (OK, just first names if you can’t remember for now…) and in recording them from left to right in the appropriate rows as they appear in the image. If we can, we also make a note of the location and/or the event/occasion, adding jottings of relevant interest which are dredged from the memory bank. In many instances, two heads or pairs of eyes are better than one in sorting out uncertainties.
Over the following month, the group meets regularly to pore over more and more photographs, enlisting help from other past students who live locally but who aren’t necessarily members of the OSA.

We’re a bit deflated when we feel we can do no more useful identification with the material to hand, but Julie is kindly reassuring, saying that whatever has been achieved is a bonus, providing information and enriching the quality of some of the vast amount of material held in the University Archive.
I know for sure that those initial sessions in the OSA Room were filled with the warmth of friendship and shared experiences, and of ‘Being Useful’: as we get older, we like to feel we can still be useful, don’t we? And for sure the room was filled with nostalgia, which is allowed when reflecting on “warm golden days when life was bright”. (Emrys Wyn Jones; Fair May your Future Be: the story of the OSA 1892-1992).
For that was how it was for me when I arrived as a Fresher in September 1959.
Now, some 60 years on, it is strangely satisfying to find myself working in Old College once again, as though a circle is being squared. I attended all of my course lectures in this quirky building.
And even now, in pushing open the main door, in touching a pillar, running my hand along the stone balcony or treading the well-worn steps, I am powerfully connected to memories of people and events in my past.
It’s not only the black and white photos which activate colourful memories.

Branch members will reconvene for another series of meetings in the OSA Room in February 2017.
There is so much to be done!
Julie is to drag us oldies into the twenty-first century by involving us in a programme of digitising some of the archival material. Dim problem, we’re up for it! Why don’t you join us?
Watch this space….

Rhiannon Steeds
Aber Branch President