The driver of the taxi taking us from Liverpool Street Station to our hotel in Bloomsbury called out to his colleagues as he drove away, giving them the traditional Cockney greeting, ‘Oy! Oy!’ It brought tears to my eyes, as it would to any linguist whose origins lie amid the mists of Kilburn.
Yigal and I were in London for a few days so that I could attend a reunion of former LSE (London School of Economics) students, and also to meet with my mother’s cousin, Ruth Weisz, née Paradis, who is ninety-one years old and was visiting from Buenos Aires. She and her niece, Eva, the daughter of Margot and Dan Petty (Margot was Ruth’s sister), with whom she had been staying in Chichester, stayed in the same hotel as us. The following day Ruth was due to return to Argentina, and Eva would be able to return home. We met for a long dinner and the next day for a lengthy breakfast. It was an exciting and enjoyable experience and much appreciated by all concerned. Ruth, who continues to teach gymnastics in her studio, shows no sign of ageing and is sprightlier than many a young person.
The LSE reunion began on Friday, with a ‘welcome lunch.’ Drinks were served liberally before and during the cold buffet meal, where seating was according to place-names. This helped everyone to make contact with people who may have studied together, but had changed out of all recognition. After all, fifty or so years do take a toll.
I hardly knew a soul there, but everyone I talked to was intelligent and pleasant. It struck me that many of the men looked somewhat the worse for wear, while the women on the whole were in better shape. Some of the people I talked to had little or no familiarity with computers (or didn’t even possess one!), and several refused to have anything to do with Amazon ‘on principle’ (they should rather not have had anything to do with the tax treaties). I had to defend Israel on one or two occasions, but most people were fairly pro, or neutral (or perhaps just polite).
After lunch we were taken on a tour of the current LSE buildings. It’s still in its central London location off Kingsway, but has grown beyond all recognition. In my time there were three main buildings, today there are about twenty, many of them completely modernized. And for obvious reasons the library is far larger and more sophisticated than it was. My feet were complaining by the time we finished, and it was all I could do to stagger back to the hotel for a little rest (and a nice cup of tea), before returning for the evening’s ‘welcome reception,’ addressed by the Director of the LSE, Professor Craig Calhoun and where more wine was served. Quite predictably, he lauded the LSE’s academic excellence and solicited donations.
The next day we heard a fascinating lecture about the groundbreaking course, ‘LSE100: Understanding the Causes of Things’ (the LSE motto) combining the various social science disciplines taught at the university. The lecturer, Professor Mick Cox, Professor of International Relations, gave a broad outline of currents in contemporary history and politics, and answered the many questions from the audience with aplomb and humour.
The lecture theatre was about half full (i.e., about 100 of the 200 people registered were in attendance) when members of the audience were asked to share their memories of the LSE. Many of those there had been involved in the sit-ins of the late 1960s, which I unfortunately missed. The question remains whether those student demonstrations served to trigger many of the changes that British society underwent in those years, or perhaps were just one aspect of them. Most people’s recollections seemed to be focused on drinking in the LSE pub, however.
After a less than lavish lunch (and no wine!), we were treated to another lecture, this time by Professor Nicholas Barr, Professor of Public Economics, who gave us an insight into the esoteric subject of financing higher education.
After that I felt that I had reached saturation point and decided to skip the presentations of the library’s collections and make my way back to our hotel. The gala dinner at the House of Parliament in the evening was attended by some eighty people, but as I had been at one at the previous reunion some ten years ago, when I met friends with whom I have remained in touch ever since, I decided to skip it this year (it was rather pricey, and required evening attire, which neither Yigal nor I possess).
If the purpose of the reunion was to meet old friends, it failed miserably in my case. However, if the idea was to make new contacts it was a roaring success for me. I met several nice and interesting people, and may even remain in touch with one or two. At my age and stage in life, that is not to be sneezed at (sorry to be going on about my age again).
Meanwhile Yigal wallowed in the delights of the British Museum, where I joined him on our last day to view the amazing exhibition of artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum. As always, London never disappoints.