A school is about so much more than just bricks and mortar.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how I was going back to my former secondary school for an old boys’ dinner. That event took place on Friday night. The last time I was at the school was on A-level results day 30 years ago; I hadn’t returned since.
The dinner is an annual event but it needed one of my peers to take the initiative and reach out to as many of us as he could track down to cajole 35 of us – half our year group – to sign up and attend. Thanks to Dave (coincidentally, he and I also went to the same primary school) for a sterling effort. Our year alone filled three of the 12 tables at the dinner. A pretty impressive turnout.
Many of us gathered at the pub beforehand to ease our way back in and reacquaint ourselves with faces which, in many cases, we hadn’t seen since the late 1980s. For me, it had been 28 years since I last met anyone from school. Some names needed a gentle reminder to clear away the cobwebs. Some faces and hairlines had changed rather more than others. All of us had 30 years of post-school updates to share: marriages (and the odd divorce), children and jobs ranging from financial trading to doctors to audience planning for Channel 4. Some were still living and working locally; one had flown in from Saudi Arabia, where he and his family now live.
Before the dinner, we had the opportunity to tour the school, guided by current students. (What they made of us old farts, God only knows.) Walking the corridors and venturing into classrooms soon jogged the memories, and the stories started to flow. Lessons with certain teachers; some remembered fondly, others less so. Sitting at our former desks. Sprinting to the old canteen – now converted into a common room – at morning break to buy sausages in a roll and other calorific goodies. The old computer room with its (at the time) state-of-the-art collection of four(!) PCs, including a Commodore PET and a Vic 20 with a massive 3.5 kilobytes of memory.
My memories of school have become somewhat fuzzy but I have a general feeling of fondness about my time there. Being back inside the school buildings – many of which had been built or significantly refurbished since I left – with my contemporaries brought forgotten events and images flooding back. We spent much of the ensuing evening reminiscing over old stories, bringing fuzzy memories back into focus.
Without wanting to get all maudlin about it, it was a lovely – and increasingly loud and rowdy! – evening that brought a bunch of middle-aged men back together to relive a younger, more innocent time in our lives. It was also a reminder that school is more than just a set of buildings or a series of lessons and exam results. It’s a shared experience and set of memories that shaped the men we subsequently became.
Let me be real here for a moment. I know not everyone’s experiences of school were positive. There were several who didn’t have a great time and, unsurprisingly, chose not to attend. That’s completely understandable. In the same way that revisiting school brought back good memories for me, why would others want to relive what for them was an altogether more traumatic time?
Anyhow, Friday night was more than just a reunion dinner. It resurfaced old memories, created a new shared experience and served as a catalyst for reconnecting friends who had drifted apart with a promise to stay in touch and set up future get-togethers. I doubt it will be another 30 years before I see many of these guys again.