For old time's sake

Last year, as I approached 40, I made a concerted effort to complete my degree having worked on it, on and off, for over 20 years. I was so thrilled when I'd got it that I decided to send a donation to my primary school - a sort of thank you for the foundation of my education, and to celebrate my momentous birthday.

I thought about the old friends with whom I'd lost touch when we went to secondary school and wondered if they might like to make the same gesture. So I set about writing to them at their old addresses and through a mutual friend. One had become a famous media person with whom I'd already exchanged letters so I wrote to him too.

I suppose I did all this without giving much thought to the consequences and I certainly didn't expect a flood of replies. The first shock came with a telephone call from the current headteacher of the school. He informed me, with pride, that the school of my imagination was no longer - it had been demolished and rebuilt. I enquired about the photographs that hung in the old hall as my brother was in them. "All lost in the move." Worse was to come.

I started to ask about the staff. "Ah" he mused, "You recall Miss Cooper?" Of course I did. She was the patient saint who taught us all - girls that was - to sew, embroider and knit (in classes of 45). "Dead." he said. "Worked here from 1948 until she retired in 1983 and died a few months later".

"Mr, Bird, the headmaster?" I enquired gingerly.

"Dead." And so the list went on, until we got to my last teacher, of whose fate he wasn't certain, and to the teacher who had beaten and terrorised us all, of whom, surprisingly, he'd never heard. By the end of our conversation I felt that the landmarks of my childhood had been savaged and destroyed. "This was a mistake," I said to myself, vowing never to rake up the past again.

But pleasure often follows pain, and in the next few days came the delight of receiving letters from old friends with their news of other people, long-forgotten. My "best" friend (the one I fell out and made up with on a daily basis) had gone on to be a special needs teacher and had two daughters - just like me. We talked for hours on the phone about childhood events and about our adult lives. Somehow there is something very special about relationships forged in childhood that stand the test of time.

Other letters followed and histories were filled in. Many of our friends had gone into the teaching profession. The friend who had found fame and fortune invited me to a live performance of his television show. Later we reminisced about infant school: "When were we Joseph and Mary?" and "What was that boy's name?" Somehow our adult status and all cultural mores vanished as we recalled incidents and accidents - there it was again, the camaraderie of childhood, unbroken by the intervening years.

I am not certain if anybody sent a donation to the school after all, but I learnt my original letter was copied and sent to far more people than I had ever envisaged. I had paid a small sum to restore priceless friendships.

Faith Ford (nee Lewis) was a pupil at Rush Green primary school in Romford, Essex 30 years ago. She is now a special needs assistant living in Hereford

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