There was a time, not so long ago, when I was pretty seriously addicted to Facebook.
But, as with anything new, the novelty soon wears off and other things take over our attention.
With me it was mainly this, my blog, along with all the attendant administrative and promotional duties, following and reading other blogs (and if I’ve neglected your blog this week I apologise, but this post should go some way to explaining why that is) and commenting on them.
As I mentioned in this post, I went to a very large comprehensive school, Crowborough Beacon in East Sussex, between ’77 and ’83 and I didn’t exactly have the “best days of my life” for a sizeable chunk of my stay there.
At least that’s what my memories would have me believe.
The trouble with bad experiences is that they tend to block out the good times associated with that period in your life and, despite having perfectly good recall, it is always difficult to get a treacherous subconscious to bring all the good stuff back to the surface.
Before I took the plunge and opened a Facebook account about three years ago, I could probably count on one hand the number of people from my school days who I still regularly saw or had any meaningful contact with on a day-to-day basis. But nostalgia is a strangely powerful force and simply seeing the names of people (trapped in that time-bubble of memory as their teenage selves) who once played such a constant part in our lives, has a mysterious effect on the synaptic bargain bin to which we consign the things that we consider to be past their remember-by-date.
Whether it’s a best friend who we lost contact with when they moved away, a secret, unrequited crush on a teacher, (a more common occurrence amongst girls than boys apparently) or simply a name or face from a long-forgotten past, it seems as if our brains are primed to pounce on the slightest excuse to reboot the good old days.
And looking back, with all the clarity that 20/20 hindsight bestows upon us, they do actually appear to have been pretty good after all.
Crowborough Beacon school, the old alma mater.
Last week I was idly scrolling through my Fb newsfeed during lunchbreak at work, when I received a notification saying I’d been added to a group page called Memories of Crowborough/Rotherfield.
Now, I’m not usually one for joining Facebook groups, they tend to be rather cliquey, self referential affairs that exclude whole sections of the online community they purport to encourage, but this one was a different thing altogether.
When I was at school, and in the years that followed, there was a larger than life, loud and frankly outrageous character called Barry Aldis, the type of bloke who you could hear holding court at the centre of a group of like-minded tearaways long before you encountered him in one of the many tribal strongholds of the school playground or saw him in a smokey corner of pub somewhere, someone who was not in my immediate circle of nerdy friends and yet always on my personal radar as a permanent fixture of Crowborough life.
I couldn’t honestly say we were friends back then, the vicissitudes of teenage allegiances being what they were meant that, as a weedy drama geek, I didn’t qualify as a member of the cool set, the tough guys, the skinheads or the heartthrob club, and Barry was a skinhead, making him off limits as a prospective mate.
But as we get older and the tribes that define us at school disperse, the peer pressures that made such friendships unlikely disappear and we are able to see others from a different perspective.
Having returned to visit friends and family in Sussex periodically after moving to Devon 16 years ago (and since we have chatted online), we have reconnected and when I met up with him at the funeral of a close mutual friend a while back, it was obvious that he had become a well thought of and respected member of our generation’s social group, not least because he runs popular disco nights in Crowborough and organised a very successful Beacon school reunion in 2009.
Barry “Phat Baz” Aldis today, form an orderly queue ladies
I don’t personally know the administrator of the new group page, but suffice to say, Baz has already stamped his irascible personality on it and it is already becoming clear that the former pupils of our old seat of learning defer to him in matters relating to any future social gathering of the clans.
In the short time that it’s been running, over 1000 ex-Beaconites have subscribed to the page and one status update in particular summed up everyone’s response to it;
“Is there any truth in the rumour that ex Beacon pupils have become the least productive members of the workforce since this group was set up because they now spend their entire day checking for updates?”
Well I wouldn’t be at all surprised, because the pull of the past is very strong once you get sucked into the vortex of memories and it appears that there is much enthusiasm for another reunion.
In fact the hunger for nostalgia is such that, within two days of joining the group, I started to see posts promising “the world’s biggest school reunion”, involving somewhat ambitious plans to stage a full blown festival on the town green, to feature alumni from right across the school’s history and live music from all five decades since.
Fortunately it wasn’t long before Big Baz stepped in to point out the incredible logistical problems this would entail, (having organised the last get together, he is only too familiar with the stresses and strains such an undertaking would involve) let alone the expenses that would be incurred in having the event policed, the council licenses required, public liability insurance and all the other bureaucratic bullshit that modern life demands in these situations.
So, after sanity once again prevailed and it was generally accepted that collective over enthusiasm may have got the better of us, it has been decided that there shall be a reunion for anyone who attended Beacon between 1970 and 1989, provisionally located in the school itself, on September 6th.
I’m looking forward to it already.
Finally, on a more sombre note, I would like to register my sadness and disbelief that so many of our classmates and teachers have been taken from us in the intervening years.
Whether they were lost to illness, car and motorcycle accidents, or in a few tragic cases, foul play, it was truly shocking to watch as the memorial thread on the page grow longer and longer.
I may not have known them all personally, but as in any school, the connections you make with friends and acquaintances means you are familiar with a lot more people than you realise, until it’s too late.
It became clear, as we were all reconnecting with our mutual pasts, that everyone felt the same and it didn’t take long before a tentative plan to initiate some kind of memorial was hatched.
Be it an online roll of honour or a physical book of remembrance to be placed in the school itself, we shall remember them as part of, yes, some of the best days of our lives.
As a fitting tribute to all those who cannot join us to reminisce, we’ll play out with a tune Baz apparently picked to honour them at the last reunion. They will remain in our memories, Forever Young.
Alphaville – Forever Young ~Official Video: