LBO Nov 2016
I am undertaking a nostalgic trip: a visit to the school where I was a pupil and just in time because in a few weeks the demolition team will move in to raze it to the ground.
An advertisement in a local newspaper alerted an old school friend who relayed the information to me thus presenting this unexpected opportunity of a visit for the first time in nearly 40 years. The advertisement was seeking the identity of the boy pictured in an old photograph next to his teacher and holding a large model aeroplane. How I had enjoyed the model aeroplane club! How I wished it was me in that photograph. There was no denying that this bespectacled 1970s boy, awkward-looking in front of the camera lens, and in slightly over-large blazer, could have been me – but it was not me.
The visit was both invigorating, bringing memories flooding back, while also disconcerting. Because in some respects it was nothing like I had remembered it to be. My memory had played tricks for sure.
The canteen where I had sat pushing unwanted food around my plate until allowed finally to leave the table was no longer dark and smelling of cabbage. It was bright and wholesome.
The assembly hall no longer carried the dark wood honours boards that once had displayed my name. I wondered just when those boards had been discarded and in which landfill site they might now lie, quietly decaying; my name in stylized gold letters in an early grave.
Our small group was permitted to visit former classrooms where I recalled my French teacher, who terrified me, and my German teacher who inspired me even though I didn’t fully realise it at the time.
Gazing out of a third floor window across the fields to the new school, just occupied and looking like a space-craft ready for take-off, the moment was brought into perfect focus. Our school days stay with us, one way or another, forever but what made them was not the buildings, in my case now a derelict and eerie mausoleum. But of course the people, both peers and teachers.
My school experience was poor or at best mixed. For most children today it is decidedly better. Making the school experience for new generations of children more focused, more humane and more empowering is more than just a worthwhile goal – it is a duty we all share.