Reunions


This is the eleventh in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

The school reunion – my third. The  end of the sandwich.

Almost the end

Almost the end

Was it good or was it grim? Was it bad or was it brill?

It was good, fun, wonderful! I had a great time chatting to some lovely women. Just perfect, except….

I was so sorry I didn’t get more of a chance to talk to one of the women there – someone I hadn’t seen since we were twelve. Hopefully another time we’ll talk more.

That’s the end of the sandwich, from writing course to school reunion with lots of filling. But it’s not quite the end of the trip. There’s still dessert to come….

This is the tenth in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

Three more nights with M1 and her husband, who always has interesting things to say – things that make me think afterwards.

One day M1 and I met up with another friend from uni and a friend of hers. We visited Wellington Arch, a landmark well worth seeing and one that most Londoners seem not to have heard of, and various memorials nearby.

War Memorial, Hyde Park Corner

War Memorial, Hyde Park Corner

Then we had a special tea in the Tophams Hotel.

Taking tea at Tophams Hotel

Taking tea at the Tophams Hotel
(my fringe was covering my eyes by this stage)

In the evening M1 and I saw a musical: Chorus Line, which we enjoyed. We also enjoyed watching a couple of German guys in front of us, who took loads of photos before the performance, including photos of themselves with the camera held out in front. What do people do with all those photos?

The next day, I met some more writers: Sue and Gail, who I met for the first time last year, and Sally Quilford. Sally has published umpteen books, runs courses and has a busy life, so I was delighted and honoured that she found time to travel to London to meet us. After a fun lunch together, we visited the Pompeii exhibition, which was fascinating but tiring. Unfortunately, we were so busy chatting and touring that no one thought of taking a photo, so you’ll have to trust me that we really did meet.

The next day, on my way to yet another temporary abode, I met Cathy (another writer) for lunch. Then I went on to meet Gill and other members of her family, and to join them for dinner. Yes, meeting people isn’t good for the waistline. Fortunately, the trip didn’t do any lasting damage.

Next was the school reunion. This was my third school reunion. The first one was wonderful, the second much harder. What would this one be like?

This is the fourth in a series of posts describing my recent trip to England, Ireland, the Netherlands and Wales, from writing course to school reunion and more.

A free day! I didn’t have many of those on this trip. In the morning I went to “Ripping Yarns” bookshop, which I’d heard about through Jen Campbell (who works there) and Catdownunder.

Ripping Yarns Bookshop

Ripping Yarns Bookshop

Unfortunately, Jen wasn’t there that day. In fact I was lucky anyone was there because I’d forgotten the shop wasn’t supposed to be open that day. It’s a fascinating shop and well worth a visit if you’re near Highgate Station. I’d have loved to have bought up the whole shop, but I made do with a signed copy of Jen’s book: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.

Later, I went to sit in  Hampstead Heath with an ice cream in the continuing heatwave. I sought out the shade, but I noticed a lot of people sitting under the burning sun. I also noticed a lack of sun hats. Mad dogs and Englishmen?

The next day, I took a train and a bus to the Hilton in Watford, so I can say I didn’t go north of Watford on this trip. I’d recently discovered that my A level Applied Maths teacher attends the swimming club there along with her husband, and they invited me to meet them there. They even invited me to breakfast with them afterwards, but I had to refuse because of a prior engagement.

She and I had a very pleasant conversation until near the end when, as old people sometimes do, she said something that upset me, so although they were both very nice, I was glad I wasn’t able to take up their invitation.

From there I went straight to King’s Cross where I met Jean Davison and her husband, Ian, for the first time. We ate in Pizza Express and visited the very interesting Propaganda exhibition in the British Library. In both of those places, the air conditioning was turned up too high, but it made a pleasant change from the heat outside and in the Underground. Afterwards we had tea outside.

With Jean Davison outside the British Museum

With Jean Davison outside the British Library

Ian surprised me by sprouting some expressions in Hebrew. He’d spent two years on a kibbutz some years ago and had remembered them.

A lot of the conversation centred on social anxiety. Jean had always thought of herself as shy until she read about social anxiety on my blog and realised that it describes her much better than “shyness.” In fact, during our conversation, we discovered that she and I have a lot in common.

I enjoyed my afternoon with Jean and Ian very much. I’m so glad we finally met, and hope we can meet again in the near future.

Many thanks to the six people who had a go at imagining what this woman is like:

MysteryWomanYour ideas were very interesting. Although they were all different, there were also some similarities.

You all portrayed her as a caring woman. Looking at the photograph, I can see why, but we never saw her as caring at all. At least, most of us didn’t.

Two of you rightly assumed the photograph is old. Not from the 1930s or ’40s, but probably the ’60s. We thought she was old then, but times change. We never saw her smile like that, but we did see that necklace.

Some of you portrayed her as having several children, while others said she didn’t have any. But you all thought she loved children. We didn’t see that either but, looking back, maybe she did. Maybe that’s why she went into that profession.

You see, this woman was our headmistress. For most of us – we who are going to meet up soon at a school reunion – she ruled us for seven years. Yes, Marallyn, with a will of iron. But soft spoken? Well yes, I suppose that, too. She had the gift of being able to control the girls without raising her voice. We were scared of her. And that’s not just because we were grammar school girls. The year after we left, the school went comprehensive, but this woman had no trouble controlling the usually unruly girls who were now part of the school.

But, in general, we didn’t feel she was there to help. Meetings with her were never pleasant. I’m not the only one to think she barely hid her antisemitic views – in a school where a third of the pupils were Jewish. She certainly made no attempt to understand my problems.

So no – not a mother, or a librarian, or a backstreet abortionist. And I can’t tell you how often she cleaned her home, or whether she cleaned it at all. But maybe, in some ways, you were closer to the truth than I will ever know.

On 3rd March, 2002, I received an email. It began: “Hi, it’s Gill Balbes (as was) here. Was talking to Jane the other night and she was telling me about how she’d been in contact with you and that you remember me (as I do you) so I thought I’d say hello. Schooldays seem a long way off but it would be nice to hear how you’re doing.”

Schooldays certainly were a long way off. It was over thirty years since I’d walked out of the school gates, vowing never to have any connection with any of the girls I’d known over the previous seven years – a few even longer. It was only recently that I’d added my name to the Friends Reunited site, opening up the possibility of contact, although I didn’t expect anyone to write to me.

But Jane did write and I made a decision: that if I was going to correspond with anyone from school, I would make the relationship meaningful by being open about what happened to me there. If they didn’t want to discuss it, there wasn’t much point in reuniting.

Fortunately, Jane did agree to discuss it. She also apologised for what she did to me, although I didn’t hold her or any of the former pupils to blame as adults for their actions as children. I always knew the bullying (which I called teasing then) had had a bad effect on the rest of my life, but never thought the children were mature enough to understand what they were causing.

Jane soon put me in contact with Gill, who had more time to write. Gill and I corresponded almost daily for a long time, and she became a very special friend to me. It was Gill who told me about social anxiety. I didn’t realise the significance of it at first, but gradually two things became clear. I was not alone in being this way and it’s possible to improve. (I don’t think it makes sense to say there’s a cure, and I don’t think there needs to be one.)

Gill has been the catalyst for many changes in my life – for starting to write, for starting a blog, and much more. We have now met several times. After ten years, I still count Gill as a very special friend.

—o—

Do you have a friend story you want to share?

Please note: I have scheduled this post to appear on the right day, but probably won’t be available to comment for a day or two.

I’ve been to three reunions altogether. Each time I was left with a different feeling, although two of the reunions were mostly with the same people.

The first one was with people from my secondary school. (That’s high school in the US. Maybe even in Britain now – I don’t know.) I spent seven years at that all-girls’ school – from age 11 to age 17 – and when I left I didn’t want any connection with any of those girls. It was that bad. And so it would have remained if it weren’t for the Internet and getting in touch with four lovely women who happened to be former colleagues. These women, via numerous emails, helped me to come to terms with the events of the long-distant past. It wasn’t that I blamed them or any of the girls at school; just that I wanted to block it all out. But, as I’ve said before, I think that was a mistake.

Anyway, the four all invited me to stay in their homes before the reunion, and by the day of the reunion, I wasn’t feeling too nervous about it. The event turned out to be very enjoyable and the best part of it, for me, was that everyone there treated me as a normal person – as opposed to our school years when they didn’t, as I remember. Actually, the hardest part was the conversation between those four and me after the reunion, which foreshadowed the subsequent reunion, but I ignored that and revelled in my feelings about the main event.

My next reunion was at my college of London University. It brought back memories of living in the impressive Victorian building, but not many memories of the students. In fact, in contrast to the people I went to school with, hardly any of the former students were familiar to me – apart from the few I’d kept in contact with. So the reunion was enjoyable but disappointing. I decided to give the next reunion, to be held this month, a miss.

The third reunion, again of my school, left me feeling very different from the way I felt after the first one, despite the fact that most of the participants had been at the first one, and they were all just as pleasant. We sat around a table and remembered our shared past, as one does at reunions. And I realised that we didn’t really share a past. That I didn’t remember the things they remembered, and they didn’t remember the things I remembered. And also, that the things I remembered were things they probably didn’t want to hear. They wanted to talk about the fun times and I didn’t remember any, because I wasn’t part of them.

So, it seems I’ve had my fill of reunions. How about you? From the comments to my previous post, I see I’m not alone.

I think this will be the first of a series of posts about reunions. If you want to say anything about reunions – whether you attend them or avoid them, whether you’ve had good or bad experiences, or anything else – please add your thoughts to the comments section. Thank you.

I’m going to a reunion today.
I think it should be fun.
I’ll see the girl who ran away,
Because she decided to follow the sun.

I’m going to a reunion today.
I think it’ll be amusing.
I’ll see the boy who couldn’t stay,
After he fiddled the wiring and fusing.

I’m going to a reunion today.
I think it will be jolly.
We’ll laugh about ancient Mrs. Gray,
Who never left home without her brolly.

I’m going to a reunion today.
It certainly won’t be dull.
I’ll tell them about my holiday
In Majorca – if there’s a lull.

I went to a reunion today.
That’s all I have to say.