In a fit of document management on my laptop, I have just come across the post below, which I wrote about 5 years ago and never published! Having re-read it I decided that it was still relevant (if we ignore the current Covid situation!) and good enough to share, so here you go…enjoy.
My past is coming back to haunt me. Much as I try to be a “live for today” and “looking forward to the future” kind of gal, there are times in a life when it is impossible to avoid being retrospective, and recently I have been reflecting upon my youth and pondering how I came to be where I am today. Where that is, incidentally, is hunched over a keyboard, squinting through my new varifocals and fighting off the mild panic that usually accompanies the realisation that another 12 months has passed without my achieving even a quarter of my goals for the year. Did I say “goals”? Sorry, a slip of the digital tongue, I meant “vague and loosely formed ambitions” (which is probably why they are unfulfilled). I digress (as ever). Getting to the point…the catalyst for this particular pre-occupation with times gone by, was receiving an invitation to a school reunion, and seeing photos of reunion guests as they were then and as they are now.
When an old school friend first alerted me to the reunion I was intrigued and excited. I hoped to be able to find some of those other friends who had been so important to me in my youth, but with whom I had lost touch in the pre- email/mobile telephone/social networking days of the 1980’s. I have inordinately fond memories of my social circle at that time, when my friends were of considerably more importance to me than my family. Learning how to build relationships outside of my immediate family and beginning to understand that different people had different ways of doing things, of looking at the world and of interacting with each other, was a revelation.
Sadly, very few of my close circle of friends from that time seemed to have been located and invited. Perhaps this tells me something about the sort of people I liked even then, the ones who were too busy getting on with life to worry about social networking and the ones who wanted to escape the claustrophobia of small town Lincolnshire. The balance of attendees I knew, liked and cared about versus those I didn’t, seemed to be very much tilted towards the latter, so the fact that I was unable to attend the reunion itself was not too disappointing.
Some of the names and faces on the old photographs on the reunion website inspired big grins and clichéd outbursts in the vein of “OMG!” whilst others left me with a slightly worrying blankness… I recognised names but not faces, and vice versa. Most worryingly there were some I simply failed to recognise and had no memory of at all. How could I not remember two of the three peers who went to Oxbridge? I had always thought (mistakenly obviously) that I had hung around with the smartest, brightest kids at school, but I drew a complete blank on the faces before me.
If looking at old photos was baffling then trying to identify people from their more recent pictures was alarming as everyone looked so damned middle-aged. Who’d have thought it?! I asked my husband if I looked as old as the people on the screen and he resolutely denied it, assuring me that I had aged very well and still looked beautiful. Not that I believed him for a minute. He is unerringly kind, tactful and diplomatic (reason number 5 of 500 why I married him). And he hasn’t noticed my lost youth and vitality because he has grown old with me over the past 38 years, bless him.
Even so, there were some rather well-worn and even downright scary looking faces amongst my peers on the reunion website. I suspect that many of these were people who had never left the local area and whose lives accelerated through marriage, parenthood, grandparenthood and divorce and actual hard graft, because there was so little else to do in our small Lincolnshire town. I am not ashamed of where I come from but I am glad that I left and have no desire to ever return to live there.
On the plus side, I was very grateful for the opportunity to catch up with at least some of the people I had always liked, but lost touch with and wondered about over the years. Corresponding with someone who actually was in my inner circle of close friends during my formative teenage years, recognising his voice and sense of humour from the words in his email transported me back to my youth in an instant. It was delightful to hear from him and remind myself why we had been part of the same clique.
I also received messages from two of my very favourite teachers from that time and have enjoyed exchanging updates and catching up with them. I am thrilled that I have had the opportunity to let them both know how fondly I remember them and how much I enjoyed their lessons. I studied with each of them for the four year period covering my O and A levels and, like my close friends from that time, they were a big influence on my development. I have my English teacher, Mr Allen P, to thank not only for my lifelong love of literature, but for teaching me to try to see the world from a different perspective, to understand that beauty is a subjective concept and to question and challenge everything. Whereas my German teacher, Mr Brian P, taught me that teachers are human and have a sense of humour too (it’s true!) I distinctly remember our (very small) A level class trying to divert him off topic from classical German literature (possibly “Immensee” by Theodore Storm) and onto anecdotes of his student days. I have never known anyone laugh so much and so freely. I chose to continue German rather than French at A level, purely because Mr Peatty made the subject much more interesting and fun, than my other teacher had with French. Although I confess I remember nothing of “Immensee”, except for a scene involving a lake with water lillies, but then again that might have been in “Die Leiden Des Jungen Werthe” which I had to read at Uni for my German subsidiary.
So there you go – the reasons for my recent period of reflection and nostalgia. I will sign off with a quote from one of my favourite films, which seems quite apt. A round of applause to those who can name it…
You know, when you started getting invited to your ten year high school reunion, time is catching up.
Are you talking about a sense of my own mortality or a fear of death?
Well, I never really thought about it quite like that.
Did you go to yours?
Yes, I did. It was just as if everyone had swelled.