Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Where Are They Now

Out of the blue the phone rang and a delightful elderly gentleman inquired as to whether I had left school in 1958. Fifty years ago, perish the thought. (Why is it I always think of other people of my age as sounding elderly but consider myself as being eternally middle aged rather than ancient in the extreme.). The gist of the gentleman's call was to inform of a reunion to be arranged for Long Eaton Grammar School leavers in the year of 1958. Now for someone who can't recall what he had for breakfast remembering the year I left school was something of a tall order. Plus the fact that I recall drifting away from an educational establishment I had little love for rather than formally leaving at a term end. I have also never attended a reunion of anything in my entire life, suspecting that for many it tends to be an excuse for the 'Haven't I done well in life syndrome' rather than a desire to meet up with school 'chums' you genuinely liked and admired, or, heaven forbid, feared and despised.
I taught in a large comprehensive school for close on twenty years. At its peak there were over two thousand pupils and over one hundred staff. On occasion individuals come to mind who have lingered long in my subconscious. I taught one young man who went on to commit murder in a local public house. One former pupil whom I met on the street informed me she had been at one stage a madame in a brothel. The newspapers often feature ex pupils; shop lifting, arson, GBH, car crimes, the offences by ex pupils are endless.
Yet the majority are respectable citizens in ordinary sometimes mundane occupations. But some excel in life, and I am proud of them and for them. One former pupil was awarded an Oscar though not for acting. Another young lady was editor of Marie Claire until being head hunted by a rival American magazine. We have educated lawyers, solicitors professional footballers and headteachers by the score. One hell of a mix; perhaps reunions are more fun than I had imagined. I wrote the following short story when thinking how pupils do in fact 'turn out'. It is based on real pupils but one incident in particular stands out. I leave you to guess as to what I am referring.
“Tempora mutantur, nos et mutantur in illis.”

(Times change and we change with them)

The Reunion

‘Calling class 5G, Marvill Secondary School, 1974’ the message on ‘Friend’s United’ had read. ‘Informal meeting in the common room, Alverton Public Library Friday March 12th, 8pm onwards, all welcome.’
The tall, confident man seated by the fire surveyed his companions.
“Malcolm, Malcolm Russell,” he announced in case anyone failed to recognise him. “Welcome, although I didn’t organise this get together.”
No one present gave any indication that they were in fact the organisers of the soiree.
The beaming man standing by the window took his cue from Malcolm.
“Wayne, Wayne Scott, long time, no see! Yet it all seems like yesterday.”
“And you’re Marjory, Marjory Bailey that was.”
Wayne looked enquiringly at the demure, attractive blond half hiding by the screen notice board. Marjory nodded and blushed furiously Even at forty-six years of age she hadn’t forgotten the crush she’d had on Wayne, aged fifteen, even if he had.
“Happy days.” The quiet, diffident man swivelled his chair so as to get a better view of the others.
“Adam, Adam Tate, in case I’ve changed a little.” He laughed almost nervously.
“Of course it’s you, Adam.”
Malcolm, Mr Confidence Personified continued to assert himself.
“Who could forget your contribution to 5G, Adam?”
The reaction was one of titters rather than belly laughs.
“Remember your hosepipe exhibition on the last day of term?”
Remember it, who could forget it!
The headmaster had been in full oratory flight, on stage, in front of the entire school on the last day of the school year. Adam, out of view at the side of the stage, had directed the fire hose onto the pontificating headmaster, knocking him to the ground with the sheer force of the water. Adam was up and away across the fields before horrified staff had helped the unfortunate, very wet, very undignified headmaster to his feet.
That Adam was the culprit might well have been common knowledge, proving such a preposterous act was never likely.
Adam smiled at the memory.
“I never excelled at school, certainly in the academic sense,” he conceded.
Somewhat of an understatement! A tendency to truant Maths, Science, PE and assemblies limited progress. Plus there was the much remembered armband incident.
Between lessons Adam had unwound a metal armband and strung it across the classroom. Poor, elderly, short-sighted Mr Duval, the French teacher had almost decapitated himself in his perambulations around the classroom.
This event was related by Malcolm with relish, to Adam’s obvious discomfort.
“None of us were angels, were we? Tracey, Tracey Mellows that was.” The rather large presence entering the room rescued Adam from Malcolm’s inquisition.
“True, Tracey love.”
Malcolm switched his attention to the newcomer.
“Remember the bike sheds, Tracey dear?”
Remember, how could Tracey forget!
Large, unattractive, insecure, Tracey had gained notoriety by the granting of sexual favours to many a male in year five. What ten pence would buy didn’t bear thinking about.
‘The best bike in the bike shed’ she was unflatteringly referred to.
“I loved those bike sheds.” Adam smiled to himself “Who was it had that butterfly tattoo on her bottom?” The question was seemingly rhetorical. The three males smiled at their memories.
“We all had tattoos, though not butterflies.” Marjory rescued Tracey from further humiliation. “Only we did most of them ourselves, remember. With a pen and ink, it didn’t half hurt!” She looked down at her arm, deciphering the faint blue lines of a crooked cross, still visible after all these years.
“And we pierced our own ears. Mine went good and proper septic, plus I got a swipe from my mother for my trouble!” Marjory grimaced at the memory.
“Remember PE and those embarrassing navy blue knickers we had to wear?” Tracy and Marjory rekindled female memories long stored but obviously not forgotten.
“I remember them too!” Adam laughed at distant lustful, adolescent, recollections.
Tracey and Marjory ignored such insensitive masculine intervention.
“Do you remember our form teacher, Mr Green? I had a right crush on him. I sometimes babysat for him and his wife, Sandra. I used to explore the house, as babysitters do. I wondered, at fifteen, why they had a whip on the wall over the bed. Come to think of it, I still do!” Marjory laughed at the memory.
“I didn’t like Mr Butler though, he used to look down my dress. Mind you, I was a big girl, even then!” Marjory laughed again.
“I went to Mr Mason’s house shortly after we all left.” Tracey was encouraged by Marjory’s contribution.
“Do you remember Mr Mason? How you boys used to make fun of him. He had a deaf aid that he hardly ever turned on. The class would be almost rioting and the only person who was oblivious was Mr Mason!
He also walked with a stick because he’d been involved in some sort of accident. You boys used to walk behind him and imitate his strange limp. Add his poor eyesight and thick classes and I guess he hadn’t much going for him.
Funnily enough I remember only one thing from Mr Mason’s house. On the wall in his hall there was a plaque. And do you know what it said? ‘I had no shoes and I complained. Then I met a man with no feet.’
It made me feel awful after all the things people did to poor Mr Mason at school.”
Tracey sighed at the memory. Wayne and Adam noticeably shuffled with embarrassment.
“You all did daft things in those days.” Malcolm’s use of ‘you’, rather than ‘we’ was not lost on the others!
“Remember, Wayne, you farting in science and blaming it on the experiment going wrong! Old Mr Bell had to look it up in a science manual what was supposed to happen when you heated sulphur and iron filings.”
Wayne shuffled uncomfortably but Malcolm was not finished yet.
“I hear you also got yourself in the news when you were an apprentice at Rolls Royce. ‘The Amorous Apprentice’ was the headline if I remember rightly.”
Wayne laughed, but out of embarrassment, not amusement. How could he ever forget?
A hot summer’s day, and a young man’s thoughts had turned to love. Wayne had arranged to pick up Jane, his girlfriend after work. Hopelessly in love, it had seemed a good idea at the time. He had stripped off before he started the short journey to the building society where she worked. She would get such a shock, no doubt be amused, and, hopefully, impressed. Only the policeman in the car alongside at the traffic lights was neither amused nor impressed! Wayne left Rolls Royce shortly afterwards, though his notoriety lived on.
Wayne shook his head at the memory of a youthful indiscretion he would rather forget.
Malcolm was beginning to irritate both Wayne and Adam.
“I must admit, we didn’t kill ourselves with work, did we?”
Wayne remembered hours spent gazing out of the windows. Hopeless guesses at diarrhoea and benefited in spelling tests. Trying, unsuccessfully, to solve the mysteries of Pythagoras, square roots and algebra.
“And how did Mr Brainbox himself do in the end?”
Adam’s vexed question barely disguised his growing animosity.
“I must admit, I didn’t do too bad.” If Malcolm was affecting modesty, he failed miserably.
He well knew his academic prowess had been the envy of many.
No joining in dubious boyish pastimes for Malcolm. No smoking behind the bike sheds or stealing beer from around the back of the Co-op. No joining the other boys in the toilets to see who could pee highest or spit furthest!
Malcolm wasn’t nicknamed Brains after the character in Thunderbirds for nothing! He needed no second invitation to champion his academic successes.
“Ten ‘O’ levels, grade ‘A’; five ‘A’ levels, grade ‘A’ at Wilmington College. Went to Oxford, Got a First Class Honours Degree.
‘Oh this learning, what a thing it is,’ Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew.”
Malcolm, predicable to the end, demonstrated his literary knowledge.
Adam noticeably stiffened with annoyance at Malcolm’s unapologetic demonstration of his academic superiority.
“I wonder where some of the others are now?” Marjory tried to deflect attention away from Malcolm.
“Do you remember Wee Davey, frightened even of even his own shadow? He joined the Army and won a medal for bravery. Alan Sowter drives buses, Simon Hodson went to Australia and Sandra Mee, who always loved children, now has eight of her own.”
Tracey’s concern for others was evident in her knowledge of the whereabouts of her classmates in 5G.
“Plus David Gregory, Sally Gunn, Tommy Roe and Ruth Thomas, where are they now, I wonder?”
“And George Platt, Gorgeous George we used to call him. He used to hang out more with you girls than us boys.” Who could forget George? Adam shook his head at the memory.
The room fell silent. All remembered a year that shaped the next thirty.
“I must be going.” Wayne broke the silence. “I’ve things to do but I will remember you all. Good night and God be with you.”
The Reverend Wayne Scott shook hands with everyone, adjusted his dog collar and stepped into the night.
The room again lapsed into silence.
“I must be going too, I’m on duty at ten o’clock.” Police Inspector Adam Tate smiled apologetically and moved towards the door.
“And me also, may I walk part of the way with you?” Tracey joined Adam by the door.
“Thank you all for a delightful evening.” Sister Tracey of the Dominican Order Of Nuns smoothed down her habit, adjusted her wimple and opened the door. Almost as an after thought, she stopped in the doorway.
“By the way, I still have the butterfly tattoo. Goodbye and may the Lord keep you safe.”
The room lapsed into silence for a third time.
Marjory, Staff Nurse Marjory of Kingsmead Hospital looked uneasily at her watch.
A knock at the door broke the silence. Two men in white coats entered, smiled, and beckoned to Malcolm.
Patient 1057, Kingsmead Hospital, formally known as The Derbyshire Asylum for the Criminally Insane meekly followed the two orderlies down the stairs to the subtle, anonymous looking white vehicle parked by the library entrance. Nurse Marjory followed at a discreet distance, pausing only to hold the door for the tall, attractive, willowy brunette who entered as the Kingsmead contingent left.
The newcomer hurried up the stairs, the sound of her high heels echoing in the almost deserted building. She glanced in the empty common room and continued down the corridor to the dimly lit reception area.
“I’m sorry I’m so late, please forgive me. I’d like to pay for the use of the common room, as agreed. My names Georgina, Georgina Platt.”

1 comment:

John Simpson said...

Well done Ken. I've done the reunion bit and found that very few people brag about how well they have done. In fact we usually have a good laugh keeping mainly to memories of school - much like you tell in your recollections of events at 'The Reunion'. Besides, at our age most of us are now retired or wanting to retire - it's all a bit of a leveler.