Wednesday, 7 September 2011

What's best forgotten down memory lane

Down in the glorious county of Devon at the weekend, to drop in on a reunion of people from Dartngton, scene of my undistinguished school career at the end of the sixties. I stayed some three hours, which represented about a twenty-fourth of the time the event lasted, but that was plenty for me: I find this kind of thing a bit like drinking Aquavit – great at first but then it begins to pall a little.

Actually, with Aquavit if you can get to glass five or six you can generally keep right on, and that’s probably true of school reunions too: once you get far enough into them you keep going. But since the school was in one of the most beautiful parts of England, it would have been a pity not to take advantage of some of the places around. For instance, a pub lunch by the side of a creek, with water in front, wooded slopes before and behind, sun in blue skies overhead, good company at the table.

The school closed in 1987. That means that nobody at a reunion is likely to be under forty, giving the whole experience a slight tinge of pathos. Schools after all are ultimately about children – when only the middle aged or frankly elderly are there to celebrate it, something fundamental seems to be missing.

So it was a bit of a relief to see three girls playing pat-a-cake on the lawn. Hard to imagine a more traditional sight, more symbolic of childish innocence (and what can be more traditional than childish innocence? Even if, as most parents know, it usually just hides a good solid streak of wilfulness and dsobedience).
Ah, the nostalgia: a picture of innocence.
But if they're like mine were, it's just a picture
I enjoyed making contact again with the people I remembered liking, and avoiding the others. However, as countless American films have made clear, one of the major purposes of attending this kind of event is to catch up on missed sexual opportunities, so I was delighted to overhear the following conversation. I’ve changed the names, naturally, to protect the guilty.

‘Elisabeth, isn’t it?’ I had absolutely no memory of the speaker, a man three or four years younger than me. Couldn’t remember Elisabeth either, as it happened, and she hadn’t recognised me, so it was a bit of relief to have our meaningless conversation interrupted.

Elisabeth gave him a bright smile of utter non-recognition. I’m prepared to be charmed, it said, but have no idea who by in this instance.

‘Wonderful to see you!’ went on the man.

Another friendly look and smile.

‘Didn’t you have a sister?’

The smile had frozen a little, the response was less warm.


‘Diane, wasn’t it? That was her name?’

‘That’s right, my sister’s Diane.’ The thermometer was dropping fast.

‘A real looker wasn’t she?’ All I could think was ‘You’re in a hole – for God’s sake stop digging.’

‘Yes, she was,’ came the response, with I felt a slight emphasis on the ‘was’, and in a tone that was becoming glacial, ‘and she knew it.’

‘Oh, and is she coming down?’

‘I don’t know. We don’t keep in touch very much.’

‘Really? You know, I used to be totally in love with her.’

I walked away. The sun was still shining outside the marquee, but just where that conversation had taken place, conditions were positively polar.

I can’t remember whether the school was particularly good at teaching us tact and sensitivity. But if it was, one person at least had clearly skipped those classes.

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