What do you get when you cross a job interview with speed dating? A school reunion. I decided this after attending my 20 year reunion recently although technically, this is impossible because my 10 year reunion was only a few months ago and I left school only a couple of years before that. Didn’t I? DIDN’T I?
Things got off to a predictable start when I forgot to RSVP despite receiving a printed invitation and several email reminders. Hello recalcitrant teenager, I remember you well. Having been so slack, I was one of half a dozen naughty girls whose names were circulated on a group email from the school (where the reunion was being held) asking us to PLEASE confirm our attendance. This was enough to instantly ignite dormant banter with a flurry of ‘reply-all’ emails resplendent with forgotten nicknames and highly spirited piss-taking.
Suddenly, unexpectedly and delightfully, we were 15 again, except with laugh lines instead of pimples and taxes instead of pocket money.
School friends are unlike any other people in your life. They fly straight under your adult radar, directly to your inner child. No matter who you think you are or who you’re trying to be, your schoolmates know your DNA. Even if you think you left it behind with your Clearasil and your lunchbox.
Twenty years later, I was fascinated to know how everyone’s lives had turned out. Like skipping to the end of a book you put down and forgot about. However, not everyone shared my excitement. A third of our year didn’t come and while geography was responsible for some of the no-shows, others perhaps had more complex reasons for staying away.
Like birthdays and Christmas, reunions force you to do a mental stock take of your life – compared to those around you and compared to your own expectations. This can be confronting. I understand that. There have been several periods since leaving school when I would have done anything to avoid the ‘So, what are you doing now?” question, even if it was asked with benevolence not judgment.
On the night, I quickly learnt to keep my opening question broad and non-threatening. Not ‘what do you do’ or ‘how many kids do you have’. The measures of a life are diverse and unique and not always easy to encapsulate in a sound bite.
As the wine flowed, someone grabbed the microphone to thank the organisers and soon, everyone was jumping up to share memories. The mood quickly turned rebellious, with a group of girls congregating defiantly outside the principal’s office to smoke. Most weren’t even smokers but couldn’t resist the opportunity to be rebels without fear of suspension.
Just as things were becoming a little derailed, one girl took to the microphone to share her feelings about being reunited with people she hadn’t seen for decades. Having lived and worked in Korea, she said there was a Korean word called called ‘cheong’, which is the effect of spending a lot of time, or living through an experience with others. “It means, even if you’re not on exactly the same wave length with these people,” she explained, “you’re connected forever because you’ve travelled through part of your life together. And what’s more, you take a keen interest in them and genuinely wish them well.”
She brought the house down. With all our half-drunk, excitable nattering, none of us had been able to articulate how surprisingly connected we still felt after all these years.
And then it was time to adjourn to the pub, the same one we’d tried to sneak into every weekend as teens.
I’m going to admit right now that a small, deluded part of my brain expected to be asked for ID at the door. The Pavlovian response is a strong one because those familiar butterflies instantly appeared in my stomach as we approached the entrance. And when we sailed through, I experienced that little rush of euphoria as though I’d gotten away with something.
Once upstairs in the bar, we peered around in the semi-darkness for somewhere to sit. Evidently, in bar terms, we were not match fit. Like shortsighted sheep, we stumbled towards a quiet area and plonked ourselves down on the couches.
Almost immediately, someone told us to move. “Sorry, this area is reserved for a private function,” said the staff member. “Maybe it’s reserved for us,” ventured someone hopefully. “No, it’s a young person’s party,” came the reply. The sound you just heard was several dozen 37-year-old women cringing simultaneously. As one, we all stood and made our way huffily to the exit, “Right,” said someone, possibly me. “We’ll just take our OLD LADY MONEY and go spend it elsewhere.”
Faster than you could say cheong, we were merrily treading a well-worn path to the other local pub, in the same way we used to spend every Friday night traipsing between the two, depending on which bouncer took the most flexible approach to allowing underage girls onto a licensed premises. Just like old times, except instead of going home to my sleeping parents, I went home to my sleeping kids. And I smiled.
Did you go to your high school reunion? What about primary school? Were you dreading it or did you embrace it? And how did it go?
[By the way: over the weekend we moved the backend of the site for a bunch of dull reasons I won't bore you with. However the comments are currently floating above us in the clouds along with All The Other Technical Things I Don't Really Understand and haven't yet landed. I am assured they will be arriving on the site soon so I'm sorry about that. Really. All new comments posted since yesterday are cool so go for your life.]
AND! I will be posting Golden Globes Frockwatches throughout the day as soon as people start arriving on the red carpet throughout Monday. In the meantime, get warmed up with The Bafta tea party red carpet (Emily Blunt!) and the People’s Choice red carpet….