Belfast Telegraph

Is the school reunion just a bit of harmless nostalgia, or an awful blast from the past?

For Fionola Meredith, the prospect of seeing how her classmates have aged after 25 years isn't particularly appealing.

School reunions are a terrible idea, right? Why on earth would I want to be reunited with a bunch of people whose only common connection is the random fact that, decades ago, in our acne-ridden youth, we happened to share a stuffy classroom together?

My policy on these bizarrely popular nostalgia-fests, until this point in my life, has been a very definite no thanks. But now my 25-year reunion is coming up, and my oldest, dearest friend - we've been close since we shared a school locker, in which we used to brew illicit supplies of sloe gin - wants me to go with her. She has a kindly curiosity about how everyone has turned out, and how they're all getting on.

So should I overcome my natural cynicism, aversion and shyness, and agree to attend?

My main argument against getting together with people I haven't seen for two and a half decades is that if I really wanted to see any of them again, I would have done it well before now. My best friend is the only person I'm still in touch with from my school days; all my other friends date from university onwards. And that's perfectly fine with me.

I have no wish to re-encounter odd-smelling Rod, who liked to flash his underpants under the desk. My life will not be enhanced by once more making the acquaintance of self-centred Georgina, the hawk-nosed hockey-queen, or any of her nameless crowd of acolytes.

Eighteen-year-olds may be awash with hormonal tears and fervent promises to stay in touch with all their mates when they leave school, but that doesn't necessarily translate into real, lifelong friendships. You're a half-formed creature when you're at school, only starting the long journey towards selfhood, so the person you are then is not - well, hopefully not - the person you are today.

In fact, I'm suspicious of anyone who clings too desperately to their glorious time at school. That best-days-of-your-life mentality often comes from a sneaking dissatisfaction with the demands and responsibilities - as well as the excitement and possibilities - of fully-fledged adulthood.

In my experience, people who long nostalgically for their schooldays tend to be dull, conformist, bureaucratic, and worryingly adaptive to life in an institution. A bit of a sad sack, in other words.

Either that, or they just never grew out of drinking beer behind the bike-sheds, or dropping pencil sharpenings down the collar of Julie in 4E. That was obviously the case with the school reunion in Suffolk which made headlines when former pupils got hammered, scrawled graffiti on the walls and set the fire alarm off by smoking in the toilets.

Me, I couldn't wait to leave school. I was bored silly with the rules and regulations, I hated the woefully unflattering uniform, and I was eager for my free, adult, independent life to begin. I bore no particular animosity to my classmates but neither was I too sorry to say goodbye to them. Twenty five years later, I'm in no rush to say hello again either.

And I do think it's worse for women going to school reunions, because there tends to be an unspoken level of judgement about physical appearance that isn't the same for men. Who is wearing well, and who is looking wrinkly and a little frayed around the seams? Who has stayed schoolgirl-svelte, and who has larded on the weight?

It's not that men don't judge each other too, but with women it can sometimes be heightened, more overt, a matter for whispered gossiping in the toilets, just like old times. Not a problem for me, though, because I can barely remember how any of them looked in the first place. I could meet any haphazard bunch of middle-aged people and be willing to accept that these were my fellow prison inmates from "the class of '92".

In fact, that revelation of age might actually be the hardest thing about the school reunion. Seeing your own contemporaries corralled together in a hotel function room, nibbling politely at cocktail sausages, is a forcible reminder that time's winged chariot is forever hurrying near.

In other words, we're all getting old. Mortality beckons, in the form of ancient maths teacher Mr Webster's increasingly threadbare toupee. I'm not sure I could handle the existential angst.

But you know what? I'll go. Not out of curiosity or nostalgia, but out of solidarity and love for my old friend. If it's awful, I can remind myself I never have to see any of these people again - or at least not until another 25 years have passed.

Belfast Telegraph

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