It all started with a posting on Friends Reunited that they would be knocking down my old school, Joseph Rowntree Comprehensive in New Earswick outside York. They would be marking the passing of a great institution by having an open weekend where ex-pupils could walk round the school and reminisce about times past. I must confess, it sounded interesting but didn't really grab me at first. Then I started to get email messages and Facebook postings from school friends I was still in contact with and names started to be banded around as to who might be going - Neil Parsons, Jackie Weston, Jeremy Bethall, Katie Simpson, Karen Lockwood - the names started to conjure up memories and before I knew it nearly forty of my school year would be attending. A tour round the school then meeting in the local village pub in the evening for a catch up. Well, it had been 28 years.
My flights were booked and I was jetting in from Spain for my first school reunion.
Now I'm sure a few of you have embarked on a school reunion before with feelings of trepidation or otherwise. Meeting an old flame and wondering whether the flame will reignite, the fat kid you used to bully who's now a beef cake and will he remember and exact his revenge or the teacher you had a crush on who isn't quite as you remembered. I was quite relaxed about the whole thing with no real apprehensions. Old school friends who I was still in regular contact with seemed apprehensive judging by the emails I was getting. Come on, boys we're not awkward 16 year old adolescents anymore, we're mature middle-aged men. Then again..........
I arrived at the school with my good friend, Owen Waft and we walked through the school gates. I scanned the people milling about in the school car park but nobody looked familiar. As we approached what we remembered as being the “new” part of the school (well, 30 years old new) we were met with a jolly, ”Hi, guys great to see you again” and a girl, sorry, woman walked towards us. I recognised her, kind of, but the name wouldn't come to me. Not a great surprise, as I'm not the best with names and faces. (now our customers know the truth. Apologies if I've called you something, which isn't printed on your Birth Certificate.) After a few “air” kisses and a “Hi. great to see you too” greeting I scanned the people now looking at Owen and I and was desperately looking for a familiar face. Nothing.
“The others are already in the Main Hall we'll see you there in a few minutes!”
“Yeh, great. See you there!”
I looked at Owen. “Who the hell was that?”
“Gemma Thompson and she was with Melanie Wainwright and Belinda Poulter” Now the familiar faces returned. Does Belinda really still have a dyed pink streak in her hair?
From being totally relaxed about the whole reunion thing I was starting to feel apprehensive. As we entered the main school hall it was packed with people. I scanned the faces looking for familiar ones. No joy. I was then greeted by an old school friend's brother, who I did recognise, as he cried, “Alick, great to see you. Come over here, they've got some sports team photos displayed with the infamous perm!”
I need to explain. In the 70s, it was fashionable for men to have permed hair. No, honestly it was. Footballers were having it done, pop stars and TV personalities. Add to that list 14 year old schoolboys who wanted to look like Kevin Keegan and there I was. In truth it was a look somewhere between Kevin Keegan, Leo Sayer and a young Barbara Streisand. It brought back memories of me sitting my mock exams in the school canteen and every few minutes the door would click open. I would look up from my exam paper to see one of the teachers scanning the canteen before setting eyes on where I was sitting. Their eyes would widen, the mouth drop open and a grin would appear. They'd spotted the pupil from the Hair Bear Bunch and the next member of the staff room would go through the same routine 5 minutes later. God knows how I managed to get decent grades in my mocks with that interruption. Actually, I'm not sure I did.
More people emerged from the crowd with enthusiastic greetings. Some I recognised straight away, others after some prompting and digging deep into the memory bank and others I had no idea who they were however hard I tried to remember and they tried to remind me.
We toured the school after the re-introductions and it brought back memories like it was only yesterday. The school looked the same – colour scheme, classroom layout and white boards. Was that really the faded writing on the white board of our English Literature Shakespeare lesson? And the smells were as I remembered. The whole thing was quite unnerving. I'm sure the graffiti on the desks hadn't faded either. “Alick 4 Debbie 4 ever.” Reference to a schoolboy crush with a Debbie Buck. And there she was.
“Do you know the first thing I thought of as I walked down the old English rooms' corridor, Alick?”, she asked. Oh no, where's this leading?
“No. Go on tell me”
“You 'chucked' me in that corridor just before I went into English. I don't want to go out with you anymore, you said and that was it!”
“I did? Blimey, teenagers, eh?!”
“Yeh, and I cried through the whole of the English lesson.”
Well, being the school “stud muffin”, heart breaker was part of the job description, wasn't it? Get over it.
By the time we got to the pub that evening the faces were totally familiar and the personalities hadn't really changed that much. We could just as easily have been that group of 16 year olds having an under age drink in the local pub except we were 28 years older. Rather than us being asked if we were old enough to drink I was on the verge of asking the young lad behind the bar if he was old enough to serve me. I don't think he'd even reached the acne stage yet.
Steven Sheffield had turned from the fat kid who was good at maths to the remarkably slim guy who was now an Actuary. Neil Parsons had changed from the short, stocky 'mature before his years' rugby forward with hair to the short, stocky 'still as mature as he was at 14' with no hair. Jackie Weston had changed from the girl every boy wanted to date (I managed 2 weeks as the school “stud muffin”) and every girl wanted to be, to a woman who, let's just say, wasn't quite as I remembered her! I hope she doesn't ever Google “Grapevine” and come across this article!
The day ended in the early hours of the following day at Ginny Caldwell's house standing in her kitchen eating pizza and crisps and drinking tinnies just as we used to do as 16 year olds. Debbie Buck was getting more and more drunk and couldn't stop mentioning my finishing our 6 week relationship in the English corridor. I hadn't realised being a heart breaker carried such long term responsibilities!
As my very good friend Bob Blenkinsop said, “That was a great day. Anyone who didn't enjoy their schooldays doesn't appreciate what's good about life” I have to agree with that, Bob. We all plan to meet up again but hopefully in a little less that 28 years. Let's hope Debbie Buck's over our traumatic break up by then.