Now and Then
September. A new school term and the start of the academic year. This September, for the first time in decades, I found myself back in school - for a School Re-union. I’ve kept in touch with only a couple of friends from those long ago schooldays ( we were a generation that didn’t have Facebook when we left school) and I’d no idea who’d be there, if I’d recognise them - or if they’d recognise or even remember me.
Walking up to the main school building was a very strange experience, the tree-lined driveway both familiar and unfamiliar.
There was the wall that divided my all-girls establishment from the boys’ school next door. There were the gates where girls met boys at lunchtime – so near, yet so far.
There was the school itself, the dining room now crowded not with girls eating school dinners, but with women drinking champagne – the noise level of the conversation reassuringly unchanged.
And there amongst the hundred or so women taking a trip into their past that day, were fifteen from my year.
We’d all been issued with name badges, but as it turned out we didn’t need them, recognising each other almost instantly. The expression ‘the years rolled away’ is a cliché, but nevertheless it was true. Yes, we’re no longer teenagers, some of us are no longer as slender as a reed, others have a few grey hairs, but to misquote a certain rock star whose hits we danced to in our youth, ‘we wear it well.’ As we swopped stories of our lives since school – careers, partners, families, travel – I could still see the faces of the girls we once were. Memories surfaced: the maths club that was a cover for a dating agency with the boys’ school (yes, really), the girl who by her own admission was always sent out of class for some misdemeanour or other (she now has a career in the law), and the delicious whiff of old scandal (the notorious ex-student, whose name while mildly famous, is not in the school archives!).
The initial meet and greet (and the exclamations as friends who hadn’t seen each other in years were re-united) being over, our year group was shown around the school by two charming and very articulate sixth-formers.
Where we wrote with pen and ink, today's students have computers.
Blackboards and chalk have given way to overhead projectors.
The hall where we used to sit on stackable chairs now has retractable seating such as you find in theatres.
The formerly wood-panelled library is now light and airy, and (the innovation that impressed me most) leads onto a roof garden – a perfect place to sit and read a book during the summer term – or just sit.
Would I want to go back to being a schoolgirl? Absolutely not. But it was good to walk the school corridors once again, to visit the classrooms, the science labs and the sixth form common room where I spent so many hours – and where someone had put up a notice saying ‘Welcome Back.’
And it was good to meet up with these amiable, interesting, confident women who I’d known as girls, to reminisce, and to discover how their lives had turned out, to step back into the past just for one afternoon and remember the way we were.