Back to school: Friends reunited?

30 years on, I’m going back to school for a reunion dinner.

Anyone remember Friends Reunited? It was one of the first major social networking sites, inspired by a desire to discover what had happened to former schoolmates. Launched in 2000, its star shone brightly for a few years before it was overtaken by the likes of Facebook. It fell into terminal decline and closed in early 2016.

This year marks 30 years since I left secondary school. In two weeks’ time, I’ll be attending a reunion dinner, where I’ll get the chance to discover what has happened to some of my former schoolmates. There were about 70 pupils in total in my year; there are about 35 of us attending. A pretty good turnout!

Memories (or the lack thereof)

It has been interesting reconnecting with some of my former classmates over the past few weeks. As someone who works in social media, naturally I was the one who quickly set up WhatsApp and Facebook groups. It didn’t take long for the reminiscing to start. Rekindling old friendships. Sharing photos from simpler times when we used film cameras and the word ‘selfie’ didn’t yet exist. Discussing notable incidents from our school years (including salacious scandals involving two former headmasters). Remembering our least favourite teachers. Learning that one of our number had been killed in a road accident not that long after we left.

Some people have almost photographic recall of names, incidents and even the minutiae of individual conversations that had otherwise been long forgotten. I don’t. I can’t recall the names of most of our former teachers without prompting. Even some of my fellow classmates are little more than a half-remembered name or a vague face.

Maybe it’s because I fell out of touch with everyone so quickly after leaving school and moved away from London. Other than a mass get-together for a game of football the summer after we left and one friend who I saw regularly during our first two years of university, I never really kept in contact with anyone. We didn’t have Facebook or WhatsApp back then.

It’s been 28 years since I saw anyone from school in person. Just the (very) occasional email or LinkedIn connection. These people were a huge part of my life for seven years – then not at all for the next 30. So it will be intriguing to see what happens when I return to the old stomping ground.

We’ll meet again

I’ve been to college gaudies (posh-speak for ‘reunion dinner’) at my old university before. I imagine the school reunion will be much the same. A mediocre dinner, followed by a few slightly-too-long, slightly-too-on-the-nose speeches to encourage us to pledge donations. Reconnecting with a few key people I’m genuinely eager to see again. Talking to others I’m curious to find out about – but it won’t be the end of my world if I don’t get a chance to speak to them much. Maybe the odd one or two who I’ll avoid like the plague or have nothing to say to. Wine will flow, as will testosterone. (I haven’t mentioned it was a boys-only school yet, have I?) There will be the inevitable discussions about who has the best job, the cutest kids, the funniest anecdotes and so on.

I’m hoping it will be a bit like the little frisson we used to get from reconnecting with someone on Friends Reunited. Hopefully it won’t be one of those nightmarish evenings where returning to school dredges up unhappy memories or brings you face-to-face with the bully who made your life hell.

Not that I have any particularly bad memories of school. People didn’t pick on me. I was never one of the cool, popular boys who had girlfriends or smoked or were in every sports team. I wasn’t unpopular either – but I was just one of the quiet, academic ones who kept his head down, played bridge instead of football at lunchtimes, that sort of thing. Just a little out of step with the in-crowd. Much as I am now, in fact.

In fact, as I quickly realised in the WhatsApp group, I just don’t have many memories of school at all.

Maybe that’s why I’m not entirely sure what to expect in two weeks’ time. Unlike some of my peers, I had no reservations whatsoever about attending. I have no reason not to go – so I’m going.

But maybe that’s also why I’m also more interested in what people have been up to since they left school, rather than reminiscing about what we did there. I’m more interested in where we are, not where we were.

Anyhow, it should make for an interesting night. I’ll report back after the event.


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