Attended a high school centenary yesterday. Probably wouldn't have bothered except a friend reminded me it was happening and another friend came along with me.
Didn't give it much thought before we turned into the car park where we were lucky to find a space. You see, this event was packed. The school 'playing fields' had even been converted to parking space for the day and they were chockers with cars.
However, I felt really odd, crossing the side street and walking through to the quadrangle, past the staff room. Appeared as though nothing had changed since I'd left there nearly 30 years ago.
I spent the first six years of my teaching career at that school. Those six years went on for a very long time, much longer than the 14 years I've been at my current school. The years flash by a bit these days. My dad used to say that when he was around the age I am now, but in my twenties I had no concept. I was still waiting for the big things to happen: travel, marriage, mortgage, children. In that order.
I encountered a former student almost immediately. An older man: fifty-something? Shaved presumably bald head, portly, acting more confident with me than he should have been. 'I'm going to kiss you,' he said, grabbing me by the waist and pulling me close. I got an unwanted wet one to the corner of my mouth. I generally avoid random kissing.
He invited me to 'stroll' over to the registration table; offered me his elbow. I hooked my arm through his for about ten seconds. 'Sorry,' I said, letting go. 'This feels really uncomfortable. I wouldn't even do this with my husband.' I didn't like the feel of this guy's arm under his shirt sleeve.
I didn't see him again after that. He was in my first ever form five English class. I was 22, in my second year of teaching. Interesting that I could remember him and the quality of his English. Now, I can barely remember the names of kids I taught last year.
I saw a few familiar faces, all former teaching colleagues. Mostly, I was incredulous that all these people were so delighted to be there. Masses of them milling around, greeting very old friends. Lots of white hair and quite a few walking frames. They'd all made the effort to go back to their old school with its almost unaltered central quad.
I had my moments back there, made a few life-long friends, learned heaps, had some great memories. But somehow, my experiences left a slightly bitter aftertaste. I think of clashes with a couple of colleagues: people being really unprofessional; some awful behaviour. And of course, i think of my own immaturity back when I knew everything, as many of us do back in our twenties. I was glad to leave that version of myself behind in that place. As if.
I heard bits of a couple of speeches yesterday - the sound system swallowed the rest as I strained to hear beneath those quadrangle eaves. Two former students, one In his 70s, one in her 40s, spoke so fondly of their own six years in the place. Around me, former students and teachers tittered and nodded at remembered characters and anecdotes. The woman who spoke was overwhelmed by emotion. It really got to me.
People's school days are really precious. That's a statement of the bleeding obvious. But yesterday was a bit like a church gathering; worship.
Despite having spent my professional life, since 1978, in secondary schools, I really hadn't thought of schools like that before.
I did make my own pilgrimage to my primary school back in Sheffield, UK, a couple of years ago, but that was about emigration, memory and being severed from my childhood when I was eight.
School, for me, and perhaps for most teachers, hasn't been something intense in my formative years. It has been my life. The continuum. Suppose that's why I was so incredulous that those six years of high school had been so precious to so many people who did the pilgrimage yesterday.
Thanks to the organisers.