Friday, November 2, 2012

The School Reunion

On Saturday night (October 27th, 2012) I went to a school reunion. I have to say it was an event I approached with mixed feelings. I left school after my 'A' levels in 1980, and apart from one person I'd not kept in contact with people from my 6th form until I joined Friends Reunited a few years ago. Here I was able to see information about some of the people I'd been in school (and elsewhere) with. However, it had the possibility of getting a bit confusing as the information you could find was determined by putting in the name of the schools you attended and then filtering according to the year you left. This created a bit of a problem! While I stayed on to 6th form and left in 1980, most people didn't and so left after 'O' levels and CSE's in 1978 (we were pre-GCSE although there were moves already happening leading to the change). Some people I knew well stayed on in Lower 6th dropped out at various stages. So, in order to catch up with everyone I knew I had to look at 1978, 1979 and 1980. I then had a load of names from those years who weren't in my school year but left at the same time, so that were a large number of people I didn't recognise. Oh well, it was entertaining to plough through the lists of names. I also looked for names of people I knew in the years above me to find out who'd signed up. Of course, one of the biggest problems with such a social network is that membership is largely self-selecting although you could invite people you knew to join but that meant knowing how to get in touch with them in the first place.......

Oh well! Through Friends Reunited I was able to see information on people I'd know back in school and actually got in touch with a few of them. In some ways, finding out a little of what was going on with so many people I'd been in school with did make me think about my reasons for wanting to find out what was going on with them. Was I simply curious? Was I wanting to find out about their successes and failures? Did I want to see people I liked and got on with in school succeeding and those I didn't get on with failing (and was that genuine loathing or being mean-spirited on my behalf)? It's fair to say that before 6th form, there were just a handful of people I'd call friends and even in 6th form there were some I wouldn't count as friends. At least there weren't people in 6th form that I really didn't like........

Was it the prospect of a reunion that possibly worried me? No. I'd been to reunions from my year in medical school and was even involved in organising the last one in 2010, the 25th anniversary of qualifying as a doctor. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS as a doctor!!!! Add five years on to that and that's how long since I left school. So, by now, it was 32 years since I left school and 34 years since I'd seen those who left in 1978. I think mainly it was the possibility of meeting up with people who I'd not got on so well with at school and wondering what the reaction was going to be, both their reaction to me and my reaction to them. Of course, I've changed enormously as a person and so has everyone else. After thirty-odd years we've all experienced something we call "life". As teenagers, we may have thought we knew what it was all about and had all the answers and had our lives mapped out. Aww! The innocence and naivety of youth. I wonder how many of us actually ended up doing exactly what we wanted to do in the way we wanted to do it and without any sort of mistakes, bad luck etc. Probably very few, if any!

So, how did the idea of a reunion come about and was it worth it? The idea was proposed by someone who I was in 6th form and taken up by several others. However, Friends Reunited seemed to have become somewhat passé. Facebook had taken over as the major social network for getting in touch with former friends and organising events, so it was over to Facebook! Several former members of the school year were already there and so connections were established. The idea was mooted that the reunion should be for those who had reached the grand age of 50 +/- 1. It was always going to be somewhat unpredictable as to the level of response, so opening up had the opportunity to get bigger numbers of people to attend. As is the way with these things, an initial flurry of activity was followed by a quiet period before someone else took up the challenge to get the details sorted out to actually ensure that the reunion actually took place. After many weeks and months of ideas going around, eventually the plan was to meet up at the Central Hotel in the Trallwn area of our home town of Pontypridd. I think the last time I went there was probably around 1981 or 1982, so of course it had changed enormously since then. Most of the building seems to be taken up by an Indian (Bangladeshi) restaurant, so the plan was to meet in the upstairs function room before eating later in the restaurant. This was good - I do like a nice curry and have even been known to make a few myself.

It wasn't really clear as to how many were going to turn up to the reunion. It seemed that while there were many people keen to meet up, there would only be about 20 or so wanting to eat. Maybe they knew something about the restaurant.........

The night of the 27th October arrived, so my wife and I set off on the short journey to Pontypridd. When we arrived at the Hotel, there were around 20 or 30 people there, but this gradually filled up so that I would estimate that there were around 70 or 80 people there. The biggest challenge was trying to identify people I knew! Some were easy, as I'd seen their pictures on Friends Reunited or Facebook. There were several people there I hadn't known in school, so I had no chance of knowing who they were. One person took the sensible step of wearing a badge with his name on and a picture from school! Maybe we should all have done that!

I did spot a few people I recognised and got chatting, reminiscing about school days and catching up with what they were up to now. A few people had moved around and were living away but there were many who were - like me - living in Cardiff and many who were still in the Pontypridd area. It seemed that quite a few of those still in Pontypridd were in regular contact, whereas those who'd moved away had mainly lost contact, even if only in Cardiff. Social networking has, however, allowed many of us to re-establish long-lost connections.

So, how was the reunion? Was it enjoyable or just painful? I have to say, in spite of my anxieties, I really enjoyed the evening. I chatted to people I'd been good friends with and others who I wasn't so friendly with. It was good to hear what people were doing with their lives. Sadly, some people had suffered ill health (one had a  bone marrow transplant for leukaemia, another had a renal transplant - both doing well now). One guy had apparently choked to death in a restaurant - grim! Many of us had changed in appearance. Some said I had changed the most - maybe that's true! I used to wear black plastic-framed glasses in school (from the age of 9) and didn't get "trendy" metal frames until well into medical school. I finally shed the specs about 18 months after qualifying. What was gratifying was being one of the few with a full head of hair, albeit going somewhat grey! Sorry, guys!

The food turned out to be a bit disappointing and the service was poor, but at least it was cheap! You get what you pay for. The chief organiser did apologise, but it wasn't her fault and at the end of the day it's doubtful if the reunion would have happened (at least not by now). The social aspect of the evening was far more important than a curry which was adequate if nothing special. I don't think I would necessarily choose that restaurant again unless I was drunk and there was nowhere else to go. However, if another reunion is organised, I'm definitely up for it. Bring it on! Somewhere in the depths of my attic are a whole bunch of photos from school - I was an avid photographer and member of the school Camera Club. I must try to get to them soon and scan them in to post on Facebook. One girl I was in school with (and fancied like crazy!) went on to win the "Miss Wales" title - perhaps all those pictures I took of her somehow inspired her to start modelling. School wasn't all bad - was it?

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