Fast forward to the past

"MINTO calling Big G," began the e-mail. At this mention of two long-disused nicknames, nostalgia hit me like a brick tied to my head with elastic.

Minto was my best pal in early secondary school. He was about the best best pal I could have asked for. Gangly, good-natured, with a fantastic (in both senses of the word) sense of humour and an enviable talent for mimicry, he also had the massive advantage of being a repeater of S1. Thus my friend was able to supply me with hugely important bits of information when I entered first year.

Minto knew which teachers you could have a laugh with, where to go for lunch and who to avoid. His year's start on me appeared to have been spent precisely calibrating the range of hearing of his pedagogues. "Kojak!" he would yell when the bald-headed PE teacher walked across the playground. Somehow, the depilatory-domed drillie never seemed to hear.

I didn't hear from Minto for two decades but contact was re-established by him through the friendsreunited website. For a year or so I have been electronically corresponding with Al, another friend from times past. Before I went on-line, we had done little more than swap a few hastily scrawled lines on the insides of Christmas cards. Now we are in touch daily. A fortnight ago Al, now living far down south, mailed to announce that he and his wife were coming up to his folks' place for the weekend. A reunion was duly arranged.

When I arrived at Al's door there was an awkward five seconds when we made an 18-year phase shift to readjust our pictures of one another. Changes seemed confined largely to the tops of our heads to the point that, should Minto have popped up from behind a bush to yell "Kojak!", at least one of us would have taken it personally.

Another phase shift inside the house - Al's wife looked little like my mental picture of her. Only his mum was little changed, that and my propensity to embarrass myself. Twenty years ago I had been knocked off my motorbike by a Volkswagen outside their house. This time I managed to spray tropical fruit juice over the table.

ICT, in the form of word-processors and DTP packages has, instead of making teachers' lives easier, made it possible for us to do things that would once have been left to someone else or not been done at all. So let's hear it for e-mail and the Internet technology that reunites friends and ruins tablecloths.

Gregor Steele was given the nickname Big G because his first initial was G and he wasn't big.

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