There's no place like memory lane

I THOUGHT that an impressive quotation would give this column a much-needed touch of class so I consulted the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and found a wide choice of entries on the subject of "school" by erudite (male) authors from Shakespeare to Shaw and Evelyn Waugh.

Not one was helpful. They had lots to say about the experience of school but all of it was negative. Perhaps their schooling suffered from the attitude expressed by Saki: "You can't expect a boy to be vicious till he's been to a good school."

I do not look upon my own schooldays through rose-tinted spectacles - primary school is coloured by difficulties with long division while chemistry was the terror of secondary school - but it appears that many adults do regard their schooldays as worthy of the fondest reminiscence. Our local newspaper runs a weekly feature entitled "Memory Lane". Readers send in old group photographs, occasionally of a Guide camp or a works outing but most often a class photograph from any time in the past 70 years.

Half the town seems to pore over the photos attempting to identify the faded, youthful faces and there is great excitement if you and your classmates make an appearance. My own first entry, a few years ago, as the teacher accompanying a trophy-winning football team, led to minor celebrity status for some days with progress along the street hindered by well-wishers offering congratulations on my achievement - although my attitude was one of concern at the reappearance of my silly, long-forgotten moustache.

I have learnt of the power of photographs from parents and former pupils and know that I tamper with them at my peril. You would think that when a child moves on to the golden world of secondary education they would forget the life they have left behind. Why is it then that 16 and 17-year-olds will visit me and take umbrage that their athletics photo from P6 or their paint-splashed face from P2 is no longer on display? Would they be embarrassed? Certainly not. They even bring new friends to join the fun. Such is the power of nostalgia that our present pupils wonder why our photographic displays are out of date.

But the nostalgia quotient of the photograph is now being challenged in the age of the Internet. It was my wife who decided to log on to Friends Reunited while I feigned disinterest. Friends Reunited is the site where you find the schools you attended and leave your name and message while reading the messages left by your classmates.

However, I could not resist the cries of delight at the recognition of names not encountered for many years accompanied by comments like, "who would have thought she'd be a grandmother already!"

The following day, I gave in. Time hurtled backwards on meeting names the decades had buried in my memory. One "girl" had even included me in her list of memorable boys although now my wife wants to know why. After that boost to my self-esteem, I was hooked and went on to access the schools where I taught.

With a teacher recently having won a court case against Friends Reunited for permitting derogatory remarks about him, I was relieved to find that former pupils have ignored me. However, the entry of one boy, now in his mid-30s, reminds me that what I called "recklessness" may grow into a "spirit of adventure".

Twenty-five years ago, I rescued him often from his reckless behaviour as he would climb anything - even out of the window, Spiderman-style - without checking how to come back. He claims to be retired in South Africa, enjoying sun, sea and sand after having made his fortune while travelling the world.

I needn't have bothered searching for a quotation. For many people, their enthusiasm for looking back supports the old adage: schooldays are the best days of your life.

Brian Toner is headteacher of St John's pri-mary in Perth.

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