Monday, 28 September 2009

Keele friends

Before I came to Toronto, someone at Keele told the prospective exchange students about the "Keele Friend" scheme. Basically, you could request to be put in contact with an alumnus of Keele living in the city you were going to, and could then arrange as much or as little with them as you like.

From what I can tell, the scheme wasn't hugely popular. I don't know of anyone else on the study abroad module that requested one (but then again I didn't really ask). I took advantage of it, however: it seemed good for a few reasons, but mainly so I'd have someone to speak to if I was a complete social failure upon arrival.

I was put in contact with two alumni: a Canadian man named Stephen Silverheart who studied as a postgraduate at Keele in the 70s (I think), and Hugh Oliver, an English octogenarian who studied there shortly after it's conception in the '50s.

Stephen was kind enough to pick me up from the airport, and to significantly reduce the distance I had to lug my bags after getting off the plane. This was achieved through his (possibly) all access pass to the underbelly of the airport, which I think comes from his position at the GTAA.

I then made a total arse of myself in front of him by forgetting that cars are operated from the opposite side here, and missing two subtle hints of his to go to the other side of the car.

It wasn't until last Friday that I met the other Keele friend: Hugh Oliver (who has a Wikipedia page!). He's an amazing man. I mentioned before that he's an octogenarian; his 80th birthday was yesterday as a matter of fact, and in the last 5 years he's released 2 full length albums, as well as a plethora of literature (including some bestseller books) during the rest of his life.

Hugh's band, The Foolish Things, play at the TRANZAC club in Toronto every Friday (I think the ANZ in TRANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand, and there's a few boomerangs dotted around inside, but I'm not really sure of the connotations). Anyway, I was invited to the club to meet Hugh. I arrived and asked at the bar if he was there, and was pointed to the man sitting on the stool immediately next to me.

It seems like I'm destined to make an arse of myself in front of each Keele friend at least once.

After introductions, we spoke for a while about Keele, music, England and Canada in general, what I'd been up to since arriving, and various other things. It was really interesting getting an insight as to what Keele was like back then. Apparently Horwood (where I lived before) was around even then! The singer from Hugh's band (who's name I've forgotten... Jeez that's terrible!) arrived shortly after, and I was introduced to her too. She told me some interestingly gruesome murder stories she heard when she worked for the police, then went to sing some blues. Very surreal.

Over the course of the evening I was introduced to some more of Hugh's friends. They were all really nice people, and most of them were musical from what I could gather. A couple write and publish books, too, and tt was interesting to meet real people who'd done so.

The next day (Saturday) was Hugh's party, to which I was invited. It was held in his son's house, and I arrived slightly late after walking from James'. I went in, and only recognised about 10% of the people. After dumping my bag in the closet I tried desperately to find Hugh, before someone accused me of being a gatecrasher. Luckily I did so fairly soon: he was in the kitchen, where I greeted him and was introduced to some more people.

Two buffets were laid out, and both were excellent. I was introduced to a lot of Hugh's friends, some English, some professors at UofT, some family, but all really nice people. As the evening progressed there were speeches, musical performances (by Hugh's grandchildren, as well as Hugh himself), and a lot of interesting conversations.

I was given a life to Bathurst around 1am, and went home to bed. It was a really nice evening overall! I'll write about any other meetings with my Keele friends as and when they happen.

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