Reunions from hell

9th April 2004 at 01:00
All that bragging and swapping business cards is too much to bear - especially if you're the one who became a teacher, says Jon Bryant

I'm not a member of Friends Reunited, but apparently one of the main benefits is that you don't actually need to reunite with anyone. You can just read about who they have been trimming in their men's hair salon or how each of their four children was conceived on a different continent.

However, my cocoon of private distrust has been threatened because it will be 20 years this summer since I left school and there are mutterings of a school reunion. I would like to go, but to be honest, I haven't been successful enough.

Once you leave school, you don't have your maths scores pinned up in the corridor any more, but real life seems much more competitive and the reunion is a dreadful opportunity for your former peers to see what you've become: a candlestick-maker, a ventriloquist, or worst of all, a teacher. I taught modern languages for five years and would expect the same reaction as prisoners might offer a fellow inmate who'd returned as a warder. So how exactly do I tell my old friends that I crossed to the other side?

I am certainly intrigued about how everyone has turned out, but the thought of all that showing off, all that bragging and swapping business cards in a small space is too much to endure.

We have spent so much time avoiding communication and now we want to meet up again and stare at each other. I don't want to see David Scolding. I never liked him when I was 12, so why should I like him now? What if I do start to like him over the course of the evening? I will have wasted all those years of loathing. Kevin Parra once kicked me so hard that I still have a small piece of his Clark's Commando in my thigh.

And what happens if the wrong people have done well? Will those of us who spent a lot of time facing the wall end up being the lecturers and professors because we had more time to ponder? Will Holzpurse still crucify small, plastic figures with his rulers? No one has heard of him since he went to Belize.

Maybe, like jury service, everyone should be forced to go to school reunions. There should be a pledge that you sign when you leave school with huge fines for non-attendance (treacherous teachers would be exempt). After all, unless everyone turns up, the group dynamics will be all wrong.

There were around 150 pupils in my year and I only speak to about six of them now. I don't know why we all lost touch but perhaps if I go along I will remember. Apparently the formerly most disgruntled, obnoxious and often noxious-smelling teenagers have actually been the ones keeping in touch. The school truants have become the "great attenders". The skivers are now the organisers. But if I don't attend, I might be implicating myself among the totally terrified, incarcerated or presumed dead.

The thing about 20 years on is that most of those going to do great things will have done them already or at least be halfway up the right mountain.

The cost of hiring a Lamborghini for the night is certainly not prohibitive, but explaining how you lost control of it outside the school gym and crashed into seven of your friends' cars may unmask your pretensions. And heaven forbid taking along any of your family since the main reason to go is surely to glimpse the boy or girl you used to fancy.

Meeting up after 20 years is a terrible way to return to all the inhibitions you felt on that first day aged 11, or worse still, on that awful last day when you were utterly convinced that those around you would be your friends for ever and ever and then never saw them again.

The school reunion is all about expectancy. For those who hated school, they can reinvent themselves as happier, more relaxed individuals, laughing off the memories and enjoying the retelling of their failures. For those who loved school, it's probably harder to go back, whatever they have done since.

For those who were universally mocked and have enjoyed absolutely no success in any arena since leaving, it's just good to show that nothing ever changes and that the blue ink splattered on your shirt collar was actually done by your new colleagues at work. And for those who became teachers, you'd better get some business cards made up.

Jon Bryant is a journalist and former modern languages teacher.

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