The Sage was very sorry to see in the paper that an old school friend of his had died suddenly. They had only seen each other occasionally, but had know each other for nearly 65 years. Today was the funeral and off he pootled in his elderly red van. Several hours later, he came back saying how many old friends he had seen – there’s something about the Norwich area, people tend to stay here or else, if they’ve moved away, gravitate back as retirement beckons. Anyway, he seems to have quite enjoyed the post-funeral get-together, at any rate.
It made me think. If I met a whole lot of people I was at school with from the age of 8 to 13, I wonder how many of them I’d recognise. Not many, and of those, I’d remember fewer names. I am still friends with a couple of them – once, whom I remained in touch with throughout, now lives in Kent and the other moved to Yagnub from London a few years ago. One, I saw in the Times, died about 6 years ago at the age of 50. I can’t remember her married surname, but I recognised her maiden name, as well as her brother’s name which, being Errol, was a bit unusual in Suffolk in the 1950s. Another friend died about 3 years ago – it’s disconcerting when someone of your own age dies of natural causes.
I think I drifted through much of my schooldays in something of a daze, however. If I didn’t see someone for a bit, I hardly recognised them. I’m not all that good with faces anyway – I’m much better now, which makes me appreciate that it’s not something I couldn’t help at all, but that I didn’t concentrate enough. In fact now, I sometimes disconcert people by remembering more about them than they remember about me. I try hard, by associating facts with a name and face – it’s not that it’s easy.
My sister, on the other hand, is brilliant at it. A couple of years ago, we were at a wedding together. We had been on holiday to Cornwall, and she’d been invited to the wedding of the daughter of a schoolfriend, in Devon, so I was, kindly, included. We drifted apart, doing the social round, and after a while, on my own for a few minutes, she waved me over to where she was chatting with two couples. She introduced me to each person by name and mentioned an interesting fact about each of them. There was a stunned silence. “Gosh,” said one of the women. “You are my new best friend, I realise.”
It’s never occurred to me to want to get in touch with people I knew at school. After all, if we’d been that bothered, we’d have stayed in contact all along. Some schools have reunions of course – mine wouldn’t have. Frankly, no one would have gone along. We were very laid back and didn’t take the place seriously at all. It closed down a year after I left, actually. I’d propped the place up for 13 years and they couldn’t manage without me. It was a convent school – the convent itself was next door to the school. Funnily enough before it became a convent, it was the childhood home of my grandmother.