It is 19 years - more than half my life - since I first came to Imperial College. I'm not sure what date it was exactly, but I remember that ITV were rerunning the JFK mini-series when I got home, so I'm guessing it was around 22 November. I think it was a Wednesday.
It was for an interview for the undergraduate physics programme. I'd never dreamt of the business school then. Well, it wasn't actually an interview, I knew that. I'd read the alternative prospectus. It was a chat with the legendary Dr Pain. The interview was in the afternoon. But there was a tour of the department beforehand that I wanted to go on. So, I got a really early (and hence expensive) train from Preston. I got there with plenty of time to spare and went to the Geological Museum, a thrill in itself.
I remember being surprised that only one other person turned up for the tour. Surely, if you'd been invited to interview, you'd want to go on the tour? Seemingly not. Perhaps not everyone studied the alternative prospectus as carefully as I did. Our guide was a female physics student. And there aren't many of them. I remember her saying that in the Physics building, going from the top fllor to the basement, you go from the hottest place in the world (OK, just a fairly hot place: the fusion/plasma group) to the coldest place (OK, just a fairly cold place: the low temperature physics group). Actually, I can't remember which group is on which floor. I work with a chap on an Imperial Innovations project who did a PhD in fusion physics there. I could ask which floor the group is on. OK, OK, it doesn't matter that much. I do remember going for lunch, and The Waterboys "The Whole of the Moon" playing on the PA. And I do remember walking across Prince's Gardens and there was a crocodile of prep school children and I thought I will write a trilogy of novels about this (my three years at Imperial College, not the prep school children). Well, that was something that wasn't to happen.
We had our chat with Dr Pain. All eight of us. We got our offer. Two Cs. I was very into Imperial College. I knew it was the number one science college in the UK (after Cambridge and Oxford). I remember a Horizon programme in which they described it as the number one. They were doing something in the stairwell of the Physics Department. I wish I could remember what. But I knew Imperial wasn't that good. But I couldn't hope too much for Oxford. My A-level physics teacher. Fred Richardson, went to Imperial and he talked of it often in class. At that instant, Imperial was enough to be going on with for me. It was within my grasp.
I'd didn't go to Imperial as an undergraduate. But before I started my MBA, I had spent many happy hours at Imperial at ICSF meetings and Picocons (not forgetting all those canapes at business school information evenings). The thing is that being at Imperial everyday somehow does have quite the same resonance at 36 that it would have done at 18. I can't see myself writing a novel about my MBA (well, actually...). Imperial was recently ranked as the 14th best university in the the world by the THES. OK, it's certainly doesn't have the 14th best business school in the world. But even so. That should be quite something. Maybe if I was doing a PhD in the Physics Department, I would feel that is was quite something. But somehow, given that I'm not, I can't quite muster the feeling. Imperial isn't quite MIT. That's one of the problems of getting older. Nothing's quite what you hope it will be.