Friday, 30 September 2011

"A time of innocence, a time of confidences..."

Over a year ago, I took the train to London and, in trepidation, met up for the first time in over thirty years two of my best friends from school. It was, in anticipation, a terrifying ordeal. We had been in touch on and off over the years but the three of us probably had not been together since our early twenties which, in case you don't know, is a very long time ago.

I heard something on the radio the other day about how, on the day you leave school, you really can't imagine never, never seeing your school peers again. I can't clearly remember my last day. There was no great hurrah for the leavers and I seem to think we just drifted away ... into town to shop or onto buses. We were uncelebrated and already surplus to the school. How unlike today with leavers' balls and special assemblies. We just disappeared into the ether - some of us (not many and not me, to university), some to college (quite different and for the educationally under-achieving - ie me) and some to the world of work. In the early 70s, all most of our parents hoped for was for us to marry well - as opposed to marrying often, but that's another story. A girls' school in the seventies was a very different beast from today with girls fast becoming the master race.

Anyway, we met, my lovely friends and I, in London and spent twenty four hours together reliving those years at school - the friends, the less-than-friends, the teachers, the pranks and the punishments. I left, feeling, well, relieved that I had survived the mini-reunion. I was, like most I suppose, not entirely happy either at school or at home in those years. And it was very stressful being a short, flat-chested teenage girl surrounded by what looked to me at the time like superwomen.

Since then, we have kept better in touch, shared jokes and experiences over the internet and become proper friends again. We know quite a lot about each other's lives now and how differently things have turned out for the three of us - all having our share of happiness and tragedy. And we are scattered across the country so we can only get together when a proper effort is made.

This year, and the point of my ramblings, is that we met at my mum's house and went to see our O level English play performed at Stratford which is, how appropriately, Macbeth. Now this production does not have witches per se, but for one night only, we three were there in the audience - if only they had known!

The other things we did included a very nice dinner at Lamb's on Sheep Street which I had booked, unconsciously, in my name - cue for animal impressions - and which seemed to cause amusement and, more importantly, we went back to school.

School was bigger but smaller, much, much smarter, the same and very different. Everywhere was carpeted which meant that the thundering of 300 girls down the main wooden staircase probably doesn't have the same ear-shattering effect. But as we recognised the old bits, sometimes not in the places they used to be, the memories tumbled out and we laughed at our old selves. Standing outside what was the headmistress's office (feared but not loved) I remembered word-for-word the Horatius poem I had been made to learn, aged 12, for being late for a Latin lesson. I still know it. The terror of the time has embedded it in my memory for ever.

We have grown up, we three, very different and yet, when we get together, the years ebb away and we are as we were then - old friends.

With thanks to Simon and Garfunkel:

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