It may occasionally be of interest to others but this blog is a self-indulgent exercise. Sometimes I’m just recording what I’ve been up to and how I feel about current events, such as Brexit and the Covid pandemic. But it has also given me a space to examine and attempt to come to terms with decades-old memories. These days I have less of a problem taking the **** out of myself, but I don’t want to embarrass other people by saying too much about close relationships, ancient and modern. Some things will remain private.
Because I blog regularly I now have a slightly higher profile on the web. That was not my intention; I do not much care if no-one reads what I write. But I am happy if having a blog makes it easier for lost friends to track me down. As I get older, I’ve found – obviously! – that the mind turns more often to childhood friendships and events half-forgotten. There are people I have searched for or stumbled across during my years of net-surfing whom I recall with affection, but I always hesitate before getting in touch with them. Maybe their memories of me are not entirely positive; or, almost as bad, they may not remember me at all!
I am still in touch with classmates from primary school
I say “still”, though I lost contact with them all during the 70s. It is only when I started the Facebook group Overchurch Junior School 1960s that relationships were rekindled. As I said in a previous post, the internet and I go back a long way, but of the many things I’ve done on the web over 25 years this simple initiative may be the most successful.
As I said in a previous blog I’ve hung on to a couple of copies of the Overchurch School Magazine from 1965. For all I know, they are the only ones left in captivity. I can proudly state that my academic career kicked off when I won the essay prize with a piece about palaeontology! Note also the rather touching foreword by our headmaster, Frank Williams.
To date it has 119 members and chugs along happily by itself, with former pupils sharing memories and posting photographs which are six decades old. Some are photos that I am in, which I’ve lost or perhaps never seen.
One such is this, featuring a group of 10-year-olds. I am on the back row, fourth from the right. What else do I see? There are many more girls than boys (23 v 8) among the 31 here assembled. It was by no means the whole class, which at one time exceeded 50; it is just those who could sing broadly in tune!
The boys stand rigidly to attention, whereas the girls, in their pretty dresses, mostly homemade, look poised and relaxed. The tall girl below me, who looks about 16, was my partner at country dancing. She was 5ft 2 to my 4ft 6! The caption indicates that we were taking part in a festival; there are clues that we are in a church, but which? Some Victorian structure in Birkenhead… But one of the girls in the picture tells me that it was in fact Birkenhead Institute (long since closed), a secondary school a couple of miles away, alma mater of Wilfred Owen. Another insists it was Birkenhead Technical College (The Tech) on Borough Road , I’m sorry to say, now demolished. (Next door was the theatre named after Glenda Jackson, cousin of my friend Chris Stevenson, also pulled down – the theatre, not Chris. It is surprising that there is anything of Birkenhead left.)
If I recall correctly it was a competition, which we did not win despite much after-class rehearsal in the assembly hall. Which of our teachers was conducting? Was it Mr Leeming, who enjoyed teaching music? Miss Driscoll? Music-making played a big part in our rather progressive state school. There were melodicas, chime bars, glockenspiels, tambourines, castanets, recorders… Who was playing the piano – or did we go a cappella? As for our repertoire, I am sure that we sang two songs: “It was a Lover and His Lass” (from As You Like It, though I doubt we were aware of that) and “Strawberry Fair”.
Hey nonny nonny no! Fol-de-dee!
And here’s one from the previous year, obviously in the same room. I am on the far left of the back row. Was I really so small? Oddly, I have no recollection of that day whatever.
Anyway, back to the 1965 photograph. One of the girls, second row, second from the left, recently messaged me after googling and finding this ‘ere blog. Not only were we in the same primary school class for several years, but we continued to be close friends until our late teens. During our secondary school years we would often walk home together. I would pass her house, and sometimes be invited in for coffee and toast. I liked Marmite and she didn’t, so I brought my own jar and left it there. We watched each other grow up from 13 to 18 (I put on eight inches in height), sharing experiences and confidences, until I went away to university. She was pretty, self-assured and popular. We were both “only children”. I didn’t know much about girls but the little I knew I learned from her. After she got married and I moved away to London we lost touch.
The picture I have in my head is of a slim and attractive woman in her early 20s – but of course, like me, she is the wrong side of 60… as they say.
A few weeks ago she was talking to a female friend for the first time in many years, mentioning names from the past, and mine cropped up. A few days later the three of us were recalling and revisiting incidents from when we were teenagers – entirely online. A lot has happened in both women’s lives, some of it sad and dramatic, whilst I seem to have had an easier time of it. Delving into the past isn’t necessarily one laugh after another.
Whilst my primary schoolfriend-neighbour and I were close but never an item, the other party can claim to be – if she wanted to – my first proper girlfriend. We were both 16, and I took her to a party or two and the occasional dinner at the Berni Inn in New Brighton, the only affordable option. Her father was a surgeon, and the family, which included two boys at my school (potentially awkward), lived in terra incognita near Bromborough Golf Club. My background was more humble. We didn’t last very long. After a promising start she got bored with me, and after a couple of months wanted to go out with someone else, an older boy. It wasn’t surprising. What self-respecting 16-year-old girl wants to be seen with a (skinny and slightly spotty) boy of the same age? There were other pretty girls around but I found her bewitching. It was a blow when I got the elbow, but after a month or two of feeling sorry for myself I found someone who worked on Saturdays in Malley’s sweet-cum-toy shop (when I bite into a Mars bar I go all Proustian); she was a beautiful girl, but not with the charm of my first love. That also lasted about three months. I clearly still had a lot to learn.
Although she was by no means the love of my life, it has become apparent that I remember her better than she remembers me.
I am trying not to find it insulting
We could hardly avoid running into each other. To give one example, we were both on a Spanish course in Valencia in 1972. My recollection is that we carefully avoided each other, barely speaking, whereas she doesn’t even remember that I was there. That may say something about my superior memory, or – more likely – the nature of our brief and unequal relationship. (Although I was very sentimental, and still am, there was also a tough and nasty side of me that wanted to fight back with, “You don’t love me now but I will go on to be successful and important, and then you’ll be sorry”. For a long time this was how I dealt with rejection: it was her mistake not mine.)
It is fascinating to find out what two different people recall about the same event. There have already been some revelations concerning other mutual friends and I look forward to more.