I'm the one just to the right behind the teacher
How many of us, singing that song in school assemblies all those years ago, could imagine ourselves forty years hence, let alone meeting up with our old school mates?
Yet thanks to the wonders of the Internet, many of us have done that. Of course, the occasional newspaper stories about childhood sweethearts meeting up at school reunions, in some cases resulting in disrupted lives, can be a worrying aspect.
Understandable then, that it was with some apprehension and nervousness, that a few years ago, I committed myself to attending a reunion of the 1955-57 leaving years of Farnworth Grammar School, originally located near Bolton, Lancashire, now sadly demolished to make way for the ubiquitous housing association development.
While at school, I did not make friends easily, partly as a result of moving around with my parents’ jobs – as anyone who has read this blog before knows, they were in domestic service – and partly due to my own reserved nature. Joining the 1950 intake of Farnworth Grammar School late in the first term, by which time tentative friendships had been formed, and particularly when many of them had known each other from earlier school days, did not help either.
I suppose I was lucky really; I could so easily have been bullied but for some reason I was not. I was teased but in a good-natured sort of way, made worse by being given a nickname by, of all people, our form-master, who used to read out the register until he got to the name of Anne Williams, almost the last on the register, when he called out ‘Wiggy.’
So the anxiety and concern were perhaps justified. I had been such a nonentity at school, always on the outskirts of what was going on, the last one tobe picked for team games, the one who was useless at PE. Would it be the same, I couldn’t help wondering, when I met up with them again? Thankfully, I was somewhat reassured by a couple of emails and a telephone conversation with the organisers.
As I no longer live in the area, attending meant staying overnight at the hotel where the reunion was to take place. This could be a problem if the occasion turned out to be a disaster but I consoled myself that I could always sneak away early if that turned out to be the case. Walking into the lounge where we were to meet for afternoon tea, I was hit by a horrible thought. What if no one remembered me? I needn’t have worried.
With my question ‘Is this the Farnworth Grammar School Group?’ a small, still slender woman with a vaguely familiar face rose to greet me and ask me my name, ticking if off a list.
Rita, the person who’d arranged this reunion and whom I’d spoken to on the phone, came forward then and said immediately ‘Anne, you haven’t changed a bit.’ Oh, no? What about the grey hair, the face in which gravity had taken over, not to mention the saggy bits on what had once been a skinny frame? I soon discovered though, that beneath the physical exterior of everyone there, you could still make out the youthful features of former schoolmates, so presumably it was the same for me.
This was confirmed when another woman, slightly frail looking but with an eager smile on her face said ‘It’s Anne, isn’t it? Didn’t we used to call you ‘Wiggy’?’ Oh, that dreaded nickname but which at least gave me some kind of identity.
A man came and sat at the side of me, apologising that he didn’t remember me. I didn’t recall his face either, but together we examined our form photograph taken in Coronation Year, 1953. That was him? But I remembered him as being tall and with abundant sandy gold locks! ‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘I stopped growing shortly after that’ he laughed, ‘and lost my hair’. It didn’t matter, what he lacked in height and hair, he made up for in humour. ‘Later’ he joked, ‘we all compare our ailments and what tablets we’re taking’.
There were many such exclamations of wonder and amazement. Names were dropped, memories long forgotten re-surfaced, seemed as fresh as yesterday. There were shrieks of laughter over photographs produced and reminiscences of that teacher, this pupil, came to light.The mood continued over dinner that night when I found I was able to relax and really enjoy myself, even raising a laugh or two, something I’d never have been able to do all those years ago. But then, I’ve led a full and varied life and after a successful career, I’m no longer the shrinking violet I once was but well able to hold my own in company. Listening to the others talking, I couldn’t help reflecting on the many stories that made up our very differing lives.
When it came to parting the next day after breakfast, everyone lingered, seemingly reluctant to say goodbye. There were many hugs and promises to keep in touch and meet up again next year. I left rather earlier than the others as I had further to travel than most of them, who still lived in and around the area, but as I did so, it with was the warm feeling of belonging in a way I’d never felt all those forty – plus – years ago.