Some notable once said of speakers that what we remember of their content is of less importance than how we were made to feel. It is on this basis that I offer a brief summary of the 2017 BSG Conference at Swansea University.
Arriving in Bristol from the West coast of Ireland, first impressions were of dolly- mixture coloured buildings on elevated sites, tempting me back another time to explore. The bus to Cardiff took me over the Severn Bridge, offering a very impressive view. First time in Wales – ever, Cardiff was roasting hot, and I was surprised at how small the city centre felt, and of so many Scottish influences. The hop-on-off bus tour gave me a feel for this city’s fabric of rugby and song, and my first aural experience of the Welsh accent, so reminiscent of ‘Hi-de-Hi’. A walk through the main Bute Gardens, boasting lush flowers, led me to a quiet, shady pub garden with friendly young staff serving ice cold beer – a welcome relief before tackling the final bus to Swansea. We seemed to arrive the back way into the university, as I saw nothing of Swansea itself. My first impression of the university on that very warm, still evening was of a film set masquerading as a university. It all looked so new, blank and American. However, once keys to room were secured, along with a welcome package of food, the first of many feedings, I did what any sensible Celt would do and tracked down the bar to find life and start networking. Memories of the first night were of drinking cold, weak beer outside the bar, looking out towards the beach and the Bristol Channel. A beach university is definitely a first for me and I imagine a strong USP for the marketing gurus. Meeting up with friends and colleagues and making new ones from the very first night was definitely a plus.
I was presenting on ‘social relationships and quality of life amongst mid-life rural women’ at 9 the next morning, and was delighted to get a fairly decent-sized audience at that hour. My presentation appeared to be well received, and I then began the hugely enjoyable task of hopping between parallel sessions to catch the brightest, the bravest, and the plain balmy of social gerontology. Parallel sessions require some degree of planning, but an endless supply of coffee, buns, and fruit was on tap, which made every piece of work feel like fun. From Christina Victor and loneliness, to Debora Price and pensions; the day flew, and before I knew it, I was at Áine Ni Léime’s book launch on the extended working life, followed by barefoot walks on the beach, hula-hooping, and tearing into veggie burgers and warm wine with friends.
Next day’s parallel sessions proved to be equally impressive, from Gemma Carney’s ageing artefacts to Catherine Hennessy’s Pathé Newsreels. Meetings with Policy Press and Emerald publishers were friendly and rewarding, and that night the conference dinner offered a brilliant ukulele band and an uber-Welsh DJ who kept the dance floor hopping.
Final parallel session on the Friday morning preceded a journey back to Ireland – a long, hot, and at times hilarious experience. Travelling, against my better judgement, by train with colleagues, proved akin to an Ealing comedy: making
too much noise in a ‘quiet compartment’ (definitely not an Irish concept), crushing travellers’ sandal-toes with over-heavy luggage, topped by a Dunkirk- like evacuation from Bristol railway station to the airport on a bus that stopped at every lamppost, and driven by the grumpiest driver in England. Worse was to follow inside the terminal where a stag-party was revving up to take some unsuspecting European city by storm.
So how did I feel about what I heard and saw? I felt happy to be amongst good people who were genuinely friendly and sharing; excited by all the new information and understanding I gathered, and by the chance to hear presentations on areas that would not normally be accessible; touched by Beti George’s tribute to her late partner, David Parry-Jones, the voice of Welsh rugby, inspired by Nora Keating’s extensive knowledge and quiet demeanour, bemused by Vanessa Burholt’s morning jogs around campus, grounded by Tom Scharf’s sound advice, and above all thankful for the very privileged life I lead in academia.
This was my second BSG conference. Adored Stirling, loved Swansea – bring on Manchester.