Once upon a time…musings on the Eclipse

The 1999 eclipse over York Minster.

Inevitably, having seen the last lunar eclipse of any note, I find myself thinking about where I was when I saw it. It was 1999. I was just finishing off my MA thesis on Rupert Brooke (which I now cannot remember a damned thing about, apart from the fact that he made liberal use of the c-word in quite a few of his unpublished works. Take that, purveyors of the ‘Golden Boy’ myth!), I was house sitting for my parents with my then-boyfriend, now husband, and it was nearly my twenty second birthday. Soon after this glorious summer came to an end, I’d be moving into my boyfriend’s one bedroom flat in north Manchester, being unemployed until Christmas and then getting my first proper full time job working as the Exams Secretary in the English Department at the University of Manchester.

At twenty two I still entertained notions of being an academic, and I used to scour the Times Higher Education Supplement for research jobs, and also the newly established job advertisement websites. A job in one of the most prestigious departments in the country might have helped that, but, actually, I wasn’t really cut out for academia. The insecurity of the research life was already beginning to tell on my boyfriend, who struggled with the fixed term contracts of it all. However, we had some great times after we ‘properly’ moved in together, even though the flat was basic, to say the least, and the area a little bit rough.

At twenty two I’d had a wonderful four years at the University of York, which I’d adored. I’d made some wonderful friends during my BA, and I’d only really stayed on to do my MA because I wanted another year in the city. I shared a student house with a fabulously flamboyant and international group of students, including an Italian named Leo (from the south, very traditional, Mama used to send him food parcels and fresh clothes every fortnight), a Sicilian named Salvo (who once said of my Shepherd’s Pie that it was the kind of thing they ‘hid guns in’ in his home country), a lovely, quiet girl from Taiwan named Shu-Chen, who was torn between exasperation and amazement at the antics of the Italians, a dryly witty Parisian named Manny, who smoked more than he ate and drank his coffee very strong (he once received a summons to join the French forces which roughly translated, read ‘if you have recently become a father, do you wish a) to defer your national service, or b) to complete your national service – how very French!), a lovely, unspoilt boy from the Welsh valleys named Dafydd, who spoke Welsh first and wore the tiniest shorts I’ve ever seen on a man (and boy, could he wear them!). Daf once spent two hours boiling a suet pudding on the kitchen cooker because he didn’t know how to use a microwave. He went off to count penguins in the Antarctic, I think.

There was a PhD student named Anthony who was doing either Physics or Maths and never spoke to anyone, although we did hear a lot of groaning emanating from behind his bedroom door, a PGCE student from Sunderland named John who was in his late thirties and was very kind, but struggling with the stress of the job (I wonder if he’s still teaching) and various itinerant visitors who did a term here and there before returning to their home countries. It was a wonderful eye opener into what people my age from other countries was like, and we all rubbed along in a jolly way during our year together. Manny managed to communicate with the Italians by way of fractured French, and I’ll never forget Salvo saying he was going to ‘cut up the kitchen’ when he meant food of the poultry variety! I shall never live up to the standards that Leo’s girlfriend set when she came to visit – up at dawn, wearing heels, a dress and full makeup to cook a full breakfast for her man, who would stagger into the kitchen in grey Y-fronts, smoking the first of innumerable cigarettes. I did wonder if she ever saw sense…

And now, of course, sixteen years on, things are quite different. The boyfriend has now been the husband for thirteen years, and there are two sprogs in the equation. From that one bedroom flat in north Manchester, we moved up and down the country until we settled back in our home county, and we’ve had decent careers. We’ve been, on the whole, fortunate, despite some traumas. And as the moon crossed the sun today, I couldn’t help musing on all that had changed, and wondering what else will have moved on the next time we see a partial in 2026. Christ, I’ll be forty nine…

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