Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Down memory lane on the seafront

Beach huts on the seafront near my old school
On Saturday, I checked in at a little hotel on the seafront in a Suffolk seaside town. Across the road, the grey sea lapped in unfriendly waves, while huge container ships made their way slowly across the horizon. It was a view I hadn't experienced for 22 years. But oh, so familiar.

This was my first return to the seaside town where I boarded for seven years, from the ages of eleven. I walked out of there at 18 and never looked back. The school closed three years later, so there were not return visits, no school reunions. But now someone had organized one via Facebook, and here we were.

Ah, the power of social media. With us all turning 40 this year, everyone had become incredibly nostalgic, posting old school photos and remembering teachers. To my surprise, people who I never would have considered friends at school had "friended" me on Facebook. Even people who had been bullies and, not to put too fine a point on it, bitches. Now they were all turning up, at this former grotty seafront pub now, amazingly, transformed into a boutique hotel.

I wasn't sure about going. None of the few friends I had stayed in touch with and seen over the years could make it, and there were only a few people going that I had been at all close to. But when I met one of them at Liverpool Street Station and travelled up with her on the train, I knew I had made the right decision.

When you live with people, day in day out, for seven years, you share quite a bond. Memories that have been tucked away into a far corner of your mind for years. A shared sense of place and experience that binds you together, despite the intervening years.

And that was the overriding feeling of the evening, which I enjoyed far more than I expected. In fact, it was fascinating. The main thing that surprised me was how many other people confessed that they had hated boarding. Even people who appeared, at the time, to be thoroughly enjoying it. It was interesting that to a woman, we all said we would not ever send our own children to boarding school.

Also interesting were the friendships that had endured, and those that hadn't. The people who confessed that when they looked back on their friendship with certain people, they saw that it wasn't healthy. The girl who had been haunted over the years by the fact that she said something awful to one girl, who then left the school as a result. The two girls who had stood by someone else who had a terrible car crash the year after we left school, and spent a year in hospital.

I was also amazed by how other people remembered me. Someone said they thought I was sporty - I never was, and spent the whole time imagining that everyone thought of me as useless at hockey. Someone else (hilariously) remembered me as a "mathematician" - turns out they had me confused with my best friend. At school I thought of myself as rather square and boring, but people didn't remember me like that. They remembered that I was good at drama and writing, and wrote funny plays for the end of term show. The people I assumed despised me at school probably didn't, after all.

In a way, our group were a microcosm of the ups and downs of life. There had been marriages, children, divorces, accidents and illnesses - even one death. At forty, I was able to see the amazing women behind the silliest of girls. Age might bring lines, but it also brings a deeper level of understanding to all of us.

So I'm glad I went. In some ways it exorcised some demons. In some ways it reminded me of a part of my life I've suppressed for years.

And looking at the unexpected blue of the sea the next morning, under a cloudless Suffolk sky, a tiny part of me admitted that perhaps it wasn't all that bad.


Was Living Down Under said...

This is beautifully written and something I think we can all relate to. I'm watching my 7 year old girl navigate friendships (the drama starts young) at school - I dread the whole process for her but I guess, if we're looking for a silver lining, it's the journey of getting there that helps shape who we are.

Kit said...

Very nice reflections - now you've made me wonder about the school reunions I've missed, which are impossible for me to get to anyway now that I'm half a world away, but perhaps I'd have found the same as you. That the people that were popular weren't as bitchy as I remember and that I wasn't as square and boring as I remember either!

About Last Weekend said...

So great! As an ordinary kid in NZ I was fascinated by boarding school - ala Secret Seven and Famous FIve, it always seemed so exotic.... and funny to hear that noone really liked it - would you ever send your kids? I have to say whatever the faults of Facebook it does bring you together with old High school friends and that is a good thing.

Iota said...

Boy, oh boy, Nappy Valley Girl, you sure can WRITE! Fabulous post that encapsulates the event and all its mixture of feelings so well.

Nota Bene said...

Catching up with people from the past is remarkably therapeutic I've found...you've captured that brilliantly here!