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Like Mother, Like Daughter

Following in my mum's footsteps to St Andrews

One September morning in 1976, Bryony Barnard bade her parents goodbye and, suitcase in hand, ascended the steps of DRA. Little did wide-eyed 18 year-old Bryony know that, many years later, her own daughter would also start her university journey in this small Fife town. While she was a fresher in 1976, I made my entrance in 2022. But just how much has changed in years gone by?

It makes sense that we followed similar paths — my mum and I are inherently very similar. As it turns out, our experiences have been, too. We have both studied English, and I even use her copies of set texts still on the syllabus — her annotations still scribbled on each page. She sang in the St Andrews Chorus, while I sing for the Madrigal Group. She played in the Symphony Orchestra, and so have I. While I acted as an extra in The Crown, she watched the filming of the iconic beach run in Chariots of Fire

We were both charmed by the romantic coastal setting, international atmosphere, and global renown of St Andrews, but in the little details of our respective uni experiences, we differ.

I was in McIntosh for my first year while my mum was in DRA, after which she went on to live in University Hall (back then, simply known as ‘Hall’), and had the luxury of being able to stay there until she graduated, spared from the competitive reapplication process, which certainly makes me wish I could have been in my mum’s shoes. Where I shed tears on account of the ruthless accommodation office last year and subsequent infinite applications to total dives prone to flooding, mould, and so on, St Andrews once offered a plethora of accommodation as a result of the much lower student population (then around 2,000). 

St Andrews’ high marriage rate isn’t just a modern phenomenon. In fact, my family holds a prime example: my uncle and aunt met at St Andrews and have been together ever since. On the other hand, impromptu meetings with one-time flings were just as awkward then as they are now — students have been bumping into their romantic counterparts in the supermarket queue since the seventies. My mother’s words still ring true: “As it’s such a small place, it was quite hard to avoid people that you went out with.”

In terms of my mum’s social life, the St Andrews student’s love of the humble pub trip is a tale as old as time. In her time, she frequented the Cross Keys, which came as a surprise to me, seeing as it’s now very much a locals’ establishment. She also favoured the Criterion and even the Vic — though the latter was much different then. She recalled that it was “a cafe with waitresses” rather than a club. It’s hard to imagine trading today’s vodka tonic and BPM night for tea and scones, but it seems as though life was generally a little slower back then. 

St Andrews has, on the other hand, always had its bizarre traditions. On Raisin, my mum was not “tortured” with a 5:33am (or similarly bright and early) arrival time. Shaving foam made no appearance on Raisin Monday, and the whole affair “was much simpler,” she noted. She even mentioned the coveted “raisin receipt” — a message on a large piece of parchment, often inscribed with the University crest. “People used to write in Latin. They were very beautiful, kind of illuminated,” she recalled. 

Academic children also carried random objects around town — a notable example being some scaffolding awarded to one poor fresher. My mother recalls carrying a metal pipe (now sadly, and unsurprisingly, lost).

There was still the weekly Sunday pier walk, but she didn’t recall the Gaudie preceding May Dip, which “was a little bit more sedate,” she explained. There was even maypole dancing, and it was held in the castle grounds. She also added that “just a few brave people” went into the sea, but  “it wasn’t a mass run in.” Last year, when I was too hungover to make it out of bed, let alone to East Sands, I would definitely have appreciated this formerly toned-down version.

Additionally, St Andrews was not the glamorous town it is now. While she noted that “there were no fashion shows,” she also noticed how people tried less in terms of their appearance. “When I walk around [St Andrews] now, [...] everybody’s very beautiful.” 

“In the seventies, we didn’t bother at all,” she mused. “Apart from dressing up for the balls, we just looked terrible all the time.” As someone who often yearns for sweatpants to be socially acceptable around town nowadays, I think I would have liked the seventies approach to style. 

Some cliques seem to have survived the test of time, and while the exact wording of “Rah, where’s my baccy?” may have been different back then, my mother spoke with humour about the posh set being affectionately known as the ‘Yahs’.

St Andrews was also on track to become the 51st state with a notable American population, though it was “nothing like the numbers that [it has] now,” she countered.”[Americans] were very much in the minority.” Writing this sentence surrounded by my almost entirely American circle makes me a little ashamed to have somewhat done away with my English roots, but at least now I have supreme knowledge of the complexities of Jersey Shore and how to make a really good grilled cheese. Sometimes it seems the yanks have colonised us back.

In a similar vein, while Market Street has never exactly rivalled Oxford Street, the shopping situation used to be even more dire. “[Back then] there were no chain stores,” my mum remarked. “There was a chip shop near the Buchanan building, and two coffee shops [...] [but] there were very few places to eat, unless you went out of town.” While I like my semester-long detox from corporate reality, I think I would have run a mile from this totally cut-off former version of town.

Going to St Andrews has brought me even closer to my mother — it gives us a common experience to talk about. “I love to hear about it,” she said. She often says that her time spent in St Andrews was one of the best periods of her life, and I’m sure when I look back one day I’ll feel the same. “It was weird and wonderful,” she mused, “the experience is actually in many ways different [to now], but the important things are the same. A close student community, lots of events, traditional balls to bind you together, and the sea was a wonderful backdrop for everything.” 

So, to my future daughter - watch out, you’ll be in Fife before you know it.

Photo: Bryony Barnard


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