The Old School Reunion
44 years on
For a split second, I was thrown straight back to my first day at secondary school. I was a new boy again. The group introduction had been made, now what to do? Nothing, seemed to make the most sense. See what everyone else has got to say. Gauge the sentiment before you dive in and make a fool of yourself.
I was on a new social media group with half a dozen 60 year old men who’d been in my class 44 years ago. I hadn’t spoken to them since.
When I first saw the email, I assumed it was someone I’d played golf with. I hadn’t seen them for nearly 20 years and wondered what had suddenly prompted the note? But it wasn’t. This went way further back. I hadn’t seen my golfer’s namesake since we’d finished our O’Levels when I was 16 (15 even, a late birthday and June finish in 1977).
I hope you are happy and healthy. I have set up a group for people from our year at school and it would be great if you could join us. If you would like too, please contact me
Wow. That’s an invitation you might want to take a moment to think about. By my age, aren’t you supposed to be long past caring about new friends? In the UK people are likely to have 2-3 good friends and 6-10 acquaintances. One in seven (14%) of us don't have a best friend. Given that I’ve muddled through life without any school friends so far, why worry about rediscovering them now? True, but curiosity is a big driver. After 44 years, wasn’t I just a little bit interested to find out what had happened to my old school chums?
BBC ‘Up’ documentary
Like many, I enjoyed the fly-on-the-wall BBC documentary series called ‘Up’ over the years. It has followed the lives of 14 British individuals since 1964, when they all turned 7 years old. The film crew has been revisiting every 7 years since. Did the little snot that read Daddy’s FT become an insufferable, over-confident adult as well? Whether you approve or not, it was/is a fascinating social experiment. Now I was staring down the barrel at something which appeared related and I wasn’t a casual observer anymore.
High school reunions have long been popular in the US. The UK’s dalliance was largely the preserve of public schools, a vital part of the process of maintaining their old boy networks. That all changed with Friends Reunited which launched in June 2000 and many more of us had a chance to find old friends. By the end of that year it had 3,000 members, a year later, 2.5 million.
For reunions to have a chance of working, school needs to be forgotten as we get on with our lives for at least 5 years, preferably 10. By then there is something to talk and gossip about. That was the formula for success back then, when keeping in touch took more effort. Social media changed all that for the better hopefully. But reunions have suffered as a result because the main draw of ‘catching-up on all that news’ has largely disappeared.
Not so for the older folk amongst us, who grew-up with phones plugged into walls and numbers stored in thick directories. A lot more time has passed since my school days and some of us never did get to grips with the ‘inter web’.
Why do people get in touch? Fond memories? I’ve revisited my school many times in my memoirs for the children. On more than one occasion, I’ve tried searching for people, enthused by the memories I’ve just been writing about. It was more difficult than I thought even with more uncommon surnames. For some reason I’ve also managed to hang on to some of my school books. That’s more likely to be the action of someone with more favourable ties with the past.
Harder for some
When I looked for comments about reunions, negative ones were more forthcoming.
In my 40s. Never been. Wouldn't go either.
I was invited for a 10 year reunion a few years ago. Didn’t go because it was just a “hey look at how amazing my job/kids/life is” from some people
The most interesting was from someone who had been at an inner London school who laughed at the thought of a reunion. She reminded me of the potential drawbacks of a big school year and a diverse community. It seemed that there hadn’t been a lot of room for friendship. School was treated as a means to an end. Do the exams, get through the gates set, move on to something better.
This was completely different to my experience. There were only two classes in the year, 30 something children in each class. In the 5 years we had together, we got to know each other.
After 44 years, if an invitation arrives, I expect most will do what I did and accept it. It isn’t a huge commitment and no one is going to hang around if they’re not having fun. Even so, it could be a bigger decision for some than others. Isn’t it easier to say ‘yes’ when you’ve navigated the last four decades without too many disasters? What if life hasn’t been quite so kind?
It was slightly surreal. I said as much to someone else who joined a few days after me. A few had kept in touch and more than expected were still local. There was also an oversubscription of solicitors.
As you might expect, much of the chat focused on pupils, teachers and events. Any questions about our 40+ year gap seems better saved for another time. A collective effort has begun to see whether others can be found.
Imagine trying to organise a bunch of 60 year old strangers, getting them together for the first time. Yet that’s what we are, nearly. There’s a thin layer of glue holding us precariously together, 5 formative years in a classroom half a lifetime ago.
I feel there is a sense of purpose building. Why bother taking this first step if there aren’t going to be others? A reunion has been mentioned and might dovetail with the local postponed school event from last year.
I hope there might be an opportunity for one or two rounds of golf with some of 1A and 1 Alpha. Time for a proper catch-up.