It’s Saturday 23rd February 2013, 9:12pm. We find ourselves at the top of the Hill, sheltering from the snow outdoors and gracing a busier-than-usual Butler Bar. As the crowd settle in their seats for the much-anticipated ‘Butler Live!’, those familiar to the haunt can’t help but shake a subconcious sense of unfamiliarity.
“Who are all those random people in the Bar?” – one unsuspecting fresher asks. Little does he know, these people are far from ‘random’…
Of course, by now we will have all worked out what’s going on here. Saturday 23rd February was, of course, the main day of Butler’s annual Durham Reunion Weekend – the one weekend of the year when we can all rewind the clock and pretend, for two days only, that we aren’t merely ‘random’ people from the ’real world’. The one weekend where we can, once again, have all those special people in one place at one time (and handily on the doorstep of insanely cheap alcohol and ready-made entertainment). The one weekend where we realise that, despite the fact that the transition to the outer-bubble was nowhere near as horrendous as we anticipated, nothing can, or will, ever come close to the experience of our days at Durham and Josephine Butler College.
As I’ve mentioned before, it is unnerving - yet somehow reassuring - how Butler continues to tick along so smoothly, as if we’d never been there. Even at 9 long months since the departure of the Class of 2012, I can’t help but find it strange when our reminiscing about funny scenarios involving people from our year (and hell, there were a lot of them) is greeted by a chorus of ‘who?’ from the youngsters. Similarly, the latest news from College suddenly isn’t all that exciting to our graduate friends who, quite frankly, haven’t got the foggiest idea who we’re talking about. All of a sudden, it seems, you graduate and the Butler world which you always knew as one big, tight-knit community suddenly splits into two: the ‘then’ and the ‘now’; the past and the present. Of course, the Durham Reunion gave these two worlds the rare opportunity to collide.
So, what greeted those alumni who braved the snow to venture up to Butler? It would be too easy to answer that question with simply ‘the good old Butler’ – the same friendly, inclusive atmosphere, the old favourite events like Butler’s Got Talent, and the same faces around the pool table for hours upon end as have called that section of the Bar ’home’ for the past two years. Instead though, it’s nice to focus on the small changes; the subtle but meaningful alterations that make each new year at Butler a little bit different to the previous.
Firstly, 2012/2013 was the year that – to the horror of some of our returning alumni – the iconic, but slightly terrifying, papier-mache Mole above the Bar had a makeover. In it’s place now sits the more friendly-looking, Rayban-donning Mole Jnr. Of course, for every 2012 Frep that beams with pride as their revamped creature overlooks the Bar, there will, somewhere, be one of their predecessors mourning the loss of their beloved original creation. As sad as it may be to witness the demise of something so iconic, the renovation of the Mole provides a heart-warming reflection of the dynamic nature of Butler College; how things will always change with the times, yet the underlying Butler spirit remains solidly in the hearts of our students. I’m sure, in some shape or form, Butler Bar will be supervised by a giant mole for a very long time to come.
New forms of entertainment are also on the agenda up at Butler. No longer is Butler’s Got Talent simply reserved for repeat performances from our singers, bands and dancers – yes, you heard right - this year we had a baton-twirling fresher take to the stage! And lots of singers and dancers (I did say the changes were subtle). Pub sports have become even more popular than ever, drawing in ever-increasing numbers of spectators, with a vast proportion of the BGT audience largely distracted by the big Butler B v Butler C darts derby game that was going on in the corner. Butler C won, for those interested. If our alumni had paid a visit a fortnight earlier, they would have witnessed the incredibly popular inaugaral Butler Karaoke night, or ‘Open Mic Night but for people who can’t sing’, as it has been fondly described in hindsight. It seems the current batch of Butlerites are keen to take the stage in any way, shape or form!
But, quite possibly, the largest change in the Butler lifestyle becomes evident at the end of the Saturday night, as the shutters close on Butler Bar and the Nightbus driver impatiently demands to know where we are going. Where does one go out on a Saturday night in Durham? The answer is immediately shortlisted to a choice of two, but as a group of alumni begin the ‘Klute v Studio’ debate, they are interrupted by shouts of ‘ACADEMY!’ from their second year friends. Yes, Academy. Because, friends, I am sad to say that Studio is no more. Studio Tuesday is a thing of the past, and when we tell people that ‘in our day’ we would quite happily visit Studes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday AND Saturday in a single week, we are simply looked at like we should be in a mental asylum. Academy Saturdays and Loveshack Wednesdays are the places to be these days, Klute is the occasional venture out on a different night, and the only time it is (maybe) socially acceptable to visit Studio is the odd Monday, largely thanks to the persuasive powers of a few glasses of formal wine.
Perhaps similarly related to formal wine, and despite the oddity of being in a Durham club that is almost like an actual, proper nightclub, our alumni had a fantastic night out. Hyped up on nostalgia from the old Freshers Week photos that graced the walls of the Seminar Room during the Alumni Dinner, our Butler graduates partied on throughout the night as if they had never been away. Old dance moves were brought back to life, old friends were bumped into (quite literally) and new booths were fallen asleep in. For one weekend only, it was just like the good old days.