We went to Hull, we lived like legends

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It was five years since they had graduated from the University of Humberside. It was time to go back, to confront the past and live for now. Mark Hayman raises a shaking glass to his Alma Mater (you what?).

The words "Live Like Legends" were daubed 3ft high in white paint across the side of a petrol station on Grafton Street, an omen for the weekend, or perhaps just a drunken action by some deluded student.

As I walked along Beverley Road, Hull, it seemed much smaller than I remembered. Perhaps it was the three years in London, or maybe I was just smaller then. Me and Macca, one of the few college friends I had kept in touch with, were making our pilgrimage to the Mainbrace, the fulcrum of our college nights (and days for that matter). Memories of ADBs (all day benders), ATs (after time) and any other abbreviations that come to mind. To our disgust, the place no longer held that individual mark and had been transformed into another "Faceless & Firkin". But who gives? We were here to drink beer, not discuss the decor. This was to be the starting-point and meeting-place for our first reunion in five years.

The first I'd heard about my Humberside University reunion was a brief phone call saying, "Get your cheque in the post, it's going to be massive, everyone's going to be there." Well, that was my initial worry. Did I want to see everyone?

Questions had to be asked, eg were all the lads going, and which goddesses would make an appearance? I suspected all the former would turn up and very few of the latter. I missed the train and wondered if that was going to be the only thing I missed on my trip back to Hull.

Walking into the pub was like re-entering your bedroom at your parents' house; it felt the same, but you knew someone had tidied up since you were last there. There in the corner sat the first of the reunionists - I've known Kev, Pete and Jon since sharing a hall during the first year.

"Look at that fucking coat," they yelled. I must point out I was wearing a huge fur coat, looking like a cross between Huggy Bear and Ron Atkinson on a cold day. But then we were always partial to a spot of dressing up. Once, during one of our many "bad taste" outings, where we would trawl the second-hand shops choosing the worst matching attire, Pete wore a balaclava and red tracksuit bottoms with Speedos pulled over them.

After several beers to top up those we had had on the train, the slow flow of ex-students started entering the pub. It's a strange experience, seeing your past resurrect itself in front of you over a tequila chaser. There were no formalities, no "how are you?", "what are you doing now?" or "how are the kids?" Just lots of pointing and uncontrollable onslaughts of giggling.

Either my eyesight had regressed to soft focus, or everyone looked exactly the same - putting aside various bulges, different haircuts and more expensive clothes. I was feeling the deja vu that would repeat itself throughout the weekend.

However, one old friend seemed to have totally reinvented himself. Neil, at 6ft something, was the scourge of the union, renowned for his precise headbutts and the ability to kick hell out of rugby players twice his size. He turned up looking like a Calvin Klein advert, with his broken nose, Dolce & Gabbana glasses and a black poloneck. Luckily, I managed to quell my giggles for this encounter. It turned out that he was now lead singer in a band that supported Oasis, which I thought was reasonably cool. However, later I heard that his coolness did diminish rapidly in front of the girl he woke up with on Sunday morning; to her horror, he was sitting up in bed holding an empty glass of water that he'd just drunk. Nothing strange in that, except that it had contained her contact lenses. Apparently she had a rather dodgy drive home.

After numerous pleas to calm down from the DJ and bouncers, we decided to make our way to the Union. When we arrived, the entrance was surprisingly people-free. Gone were the days of vast queues which led to clambering through skylights into the girls' toilets. A few of the security staff recognised me from my days as Union vice-president but their only welcome was "what the hell are you doing back?" and suchlike. It was touching to know the respect in which I was held.

The building itself had taken on a totally different appearance since its peak around 1990. The black walls, dim lights and beer-sodden Velcro floor had made way for an altogether more sterile environment. Nights spent trawling around, Snakebite Black in hand, smacking the lips on as many girls as possible, seemed an all-too-distant memory. Surprisingly, everyone forewent the opportunity to sample drinks such as blastaways, Snakey Bs and pints of white wine - drinks chosen purely for their lobotomising qualities. The sophisticated replacement was lager with gin chasers. I stood on the balcony for a while, watching over the dance floor as the lads breakdanced and lunged at each other to Abba's "Dancing Queen". This was all watched with total bemusement by the teenage students, most of whom turned into the unwilling victims of a drunken advance.

After renewing an acquaintance with an old goddess with a view to correcting one of my few omissions, only to find out she was virtually engaged to an old flatmate, I decided to join the aged body-poppers on the dance floor.

The helicopters could almost have been flying overhead as I walked down Cottingham Road, arms outspread, singing Oasis's "All my people right here right now", with the rest following behind me. I admit I had run to the front to play the Pied Piper. But who cares? That's how I had remembered it. As I jumped into a Skoda (Hull's impression of the black cab) with a girl I didn't know, a second feeling of deja vu rushed over me.

After the third attempt, the magnetic key to her hotel room still wouldn't work. I had a strange moment of clarity or maturity, call it what you will. During my college years, a locked door would never have halted our progress, but I only had to look down the hall to the pot plant in the corner to remember. We had numerous balls in that hotel, and all ended with every nook and cranny being filled by couples in evening dress that disguised their unsophisticated intentions. This was the moment when I realised I really had changed. I made my excuses and caught another Skoda back to my place of residence.

Saturday was to be an all-dayer in Hull's old town, followed by the reunion proper held in a suite at LA's, probably the city's cheesiest nightclub.

However, on meeting Fuzzy Duck, the amusement was renewed. Fuzzy is so called because of his inability to play the drinking game of the same name. He's partly deaf, and every time it was his turn to say "fuzzy duck" or "duck fuzz" he couldn't quite hear what was said before and just said, "ahh fuck it" and downed three fingers of beer.

As the neon blue of LA's ultraviolet danced off the faces from my past, I felt I'd entered my own twilight zone. Looking through the alcoholic haze of the day I dimly recognised veteran after veteran of drunken encounters in the Union or regular faces from around campus.

I was struck by how well the women were dressed. The gulf between student attire and the clothes of people with incomes seemed to be greater for females. In fact, another sweep of the room left me in no doubt that the gulf was not merely that of fashion. The girls had largely evolved into women, whereas the boys, lunging around the dance floor and cracking into old flames, had definitely remained boys.

Questions such as "what are you doing now?" had been surprisingly thin on the ground. I guess the surreal environment would have been tarnished by punctuations of reality. Jimmy, a beer monster extraordinaire, did find time to reveal his present vocation. After forays into an array of occupations he'd settled on opening a sandwich shop in Sheffield. He suggested I should pay him a visit and sample his top-of-the-range collection: the "Armani sarni", a perfect example of post-student sophistication.

The night began to merge easily into the rest of the weekend. Had it not been for the welcoming bar of the Royal Hotel, the evening would have been tragically cut short. "Speech, speech." Macca had decided it was time he thanked everyone for coming, even though it had been Damien who had organised the event. However, no sooner had he raised himself on to a platform between two pot plants than he fell off. A fitting finale.

"Let's stay another night." "Let's stay for two fucking weeks!"

As we sat in the Brace on Sunday afternoon nursing our heads with a few comforting beers, the goodbyes and "let's do this again next year"s began.

Finally we sat there alone, three sad amigos with train tickets for Monday. There was nothing else for it but to reflect on the weekend through the glass sides of yet another few pints.

The train journey back was a depressing affair, with few words spoken and the onset of DTs. As I sat there, brain numbed, feeling as if I'd been to hell and back, not Hull and back, a broad smile crept across my face.

I closed my eyes and pictured those words, "Live Like Legends", staring at me three days earlier. It was nice to think they were still there, six years after I'd painted them.

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