It’s difficult to describe what it is, exactly, I find so annoying and slightly more than a little distateful about any sort of reunion but most especially school reuinions. I know that I often wonder what it is I’m obviously missing, as Friends Reunited may sound like a morning-after dot.com brainstorm, but there’s no denying that it’s anything but a dot.com site (and to be fair to the original designers, it was never intended to be quite this big and wasn’t built on the back of a dodgy business plan). It’s not a case of thinking I’m wrong, but rather musing during quiet moments about my lack of interest and pondering the possibilities of it being nature, nuture, or some random genetic mutation.
Ben Elton has a book out called Past Mortem [warning: spoilers via that link] which is a novel wrapped thinly around a very long and very intense dig at FR – the book was entertaining (helped to pass a very wet camping trip through the lower parts of Scotland, the Dales and parts of the Peak District) if a little obvious in places, but what came through stronger than anything else is that Mr Elton must, at some level, share my distate for reunions too. What wasn’t obvious until tonight is that there may well be something genetic involved in this modern middle aged rite of passage: in the book there are numerous emails/forums posts shown from the organiser (perpetrator ?) of one such reunion and each had the trademark number of exclamation marks that Terry Prachett has warned us about and which I took to be part of the narrative, along with the almost plaintive sub-text begging for people to actually turn up which echoes with so much pathos it’s not only possible to see the empty hall with its table full of Pringles and triangular sandwiches, but to hear the DJ trying to make his money with only two people in the room.
Then I received an email from one of a handful of people from my last school that I am happy to both know and meet (however infrequently that may be) with a copy of an email taken from FR and sent out by someone who is either known to Ben, or has read his book and is trying (and succeeding) in parodying art parodying real life. I managed to let the the obligatory double exclamation marks and date IN CAPITAL LETTERS (just so you won’t forget) slide over me as I glanced through it, until I came to the line:
“The general consensus seems to be that people won’t bring partners”
which just shouts (in my tawdry mind) of not only trying to put people through the already painful experience of being reminded by those who were actually there what a plonker you inevitably were at some point in past, but for free reign when it comes to unrequited crushes on people that either a) never knew or b) simply couldn’t think of a suitably humiliating way to put you down and so pretended to not know. The follow up made sure that such thoughts could only be of my own making:
“Having said that, obviously partners are more than welcome”
Of course. The reasoning is explained away as the stories being told would be rather tedious unless you happened to be there at the time; this I can imagine is 98% true, although in-laws usually manage to come up with similar comments, stories and photographs in often creatively amusing ways so I can imagine that some insights into the past of a significant other might be quite interesting indeed. I’m still left, however, with a feeling that there would be a good portion of the evening spent in the past whilst at the event wondering what would have happened if a kiss had been followed up; if a missed party invitation had been accepted, or if any other of a thousand things might have taken place instead of what really happened. For my part I’m perfectly capable of trying to imagine any number of things I wish I’d done differently – some of them less than a week ago – and have no need to actually return to a location and dredge up cringeworthy memories from 20 years ago in order to day dream. I certainly don’t need to see what people ‘have made of themselves’ since school – I didn’t choose to go to school with any of them: we were all there due to a coincidence in the timing of our parents sexual urges and the best thing I can say in defense of our current Higher Education system is that it’s entirely possible to study for a degree many hundreds of miles away from the most annoying reminders of puberty.
For anyone tempted to go to such an event — read the book first, and then re-read the invitation email. It might just save some time and angst.