I was at my school reunion at the weekend. It was…well, hard to describe unless you were there, in which case, you won’t need my inadequate attempts to explain the gamut of emotions. If, as is more likely, you weren’t there, I hope this may give you an inkling: it was amazing and comfortable, funny and sad, euphoric and exhausting, novel and familiar…I could go on with the contrasts, but I’m sure you get the idea.
Meh! you might think, it was just a bunch of people you probably lost touch with for a reason and won’t want to see again, but you’d be wrong. When we were there, it was a convent and private boarding school*. (Yes, that’s right, I’m a convent girl and I’m not a nun, make of that what you will).
Some were day girls, others were weekly boarders, the rest of us
inmates full boarders lived in close proximity, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for most of the year. The result was close bonds and fleeting enmities, but mostly, independence and an ability to cope with deprivation (inadequate food, hard loo paper, cold, a lack of home comforts and family – we were part-time orphans). It was a strange way to grow up and I sometimes wonder whether, had any of us gone to prison, we’d have slotted in comfortably to the institutionalised regime or even if we would have found it easier than a childhood boarding school.
There was also very little to do out of school hours, with very limited TV privileges (explicit permission was needed to watch specified programmes), other than read or roam and roam we did. Fortunately, the grounds were extensive and as feral youngsters we climbed trees, built dens in the bushes, fished for newts in the swimming pool (disused) and foraged. We staved off starvation with apples from the orchards (sadly, now almost all gone), sweet chestnuts, rhubarb and gooseberries, even dandelions leaves and if we were very lucky, the odd bit of cake from one of the kind kitchen nuns. As we grew up and roaming rights extended beyond the school grounds, we walked…and walked…and walked. It’s incredible to think how much we walked: all around the school grounds, to the village and the reservoir, to neighbouring villages and even the 4 miles or so into town if we didn’t have the bus fare.
*my school closed in 1983 and reopened a few years later as a non-boarding grammar school.
This weekend we reminisced about all these things and many more with a mixture of astonishment (how could I have forgotten that?**), sadness (at least two of our class are no longer with us), sometimes regret (how terribly ignorant we were of one another’s emotional fragility and how totally incapable of dealing with it) and even horror (the brief employment of an accused kiddy-fiddler as a teacher, the glut of oranges during the mercury scare). Mostly, though, we remembered our times together and the high jinks we perpetrated with a good deal of laughter and vows to get together again soon. The curious thing about old friendships is that the passage of time is inconsequential – you see one another as before and pick up where you left off.
**I had forgotten that I once snapped and horsewhipped a girl for needling me that bit too far. All present agreed that she thoroughly deserved it, but I’d forgotten the incident completely until reminded. I still have the riding crop. You have been warned ;D
When I left the gathering, it was with sadness, knowing that even with the best will in the world, there will be people I’ll probably never see again. Life will get in the way, the initial enthusiasm and will to meet up will wear off over time, the location may be inconvenient and a whole host of other possible hindrances. The truth is that we have grown up, made our lives and don’t need one another any more. Equally true, however, is that our lives will be richer for retaining these youthful alliances…if only to fill the gaps in our own failing memories. The sum of our experiences lies in part with those who shared them.