Some people will go to great lengths to avoid a high school reunion
Had I not been laid up in hospital last weekend, I might have been at my high school reunion. Alright, that’s not true. I didn’t schedule my brain surgery in order to avoid the school reunion, because I didn’t need to. There was no way I was going. I’d forgotten it was on until I got that message from an old school friend on Facebook.
What I found oddest about the whole thing was that I actually did consider going at one point. It almost seemed compulsory. On reflection, I realised two things. One, if I went there was absolutely no way I could avoid people I could never stand who were crashing wastes of oxygen twenty years ago and still would be. And two, if there were people I would like to see again, I could actually do that any time I wanted, without any chance of encountering people from Group A. In that sense, it was a useful wake-up call.
Even during my teenage years, a lot of my attention was focused on things outside of school – politics, partners, acting. It was hard to peel all of that away and realise that actually the school itself wasn’t all that bad.
I chose my own high school, though there wasn’t really any choice. There was no way I was going to Girls’ High. It wasn’t even that I had a desperate need to have boys around, it was just that I couldn’t understand single-sex schools at all. It made about as much sense to me as having a school just for people with blue eyes or brown hair. Also, Mountainview was going to teach me Latin. They didn’t: my arrival coincided with Latin’s departure. My first year options included horticulture and agriculture. The school had its very own flock of sheep. I had to settle for teaching myself French in a cupboard.
Mountainview was great, really. It was a brand new school: it took the kids who got expelled from the ‘good’ schools, and yet it was clean and cared for. There wasn’t a staircase in the place. The only vertical things were the forms, and that was a system that worked. When I was a 7th former, I was a peer support leader, and there was a real sense of looking after ‘our’ thirds. Adults were scared of kids from our school, the uniform was practically a gang patch.
I was unpopular, and bullied. A lot of the time I was hugely unhappy. There were people, both staff and students, who seemed to take real pleasure in making other people miserable. I thought I was hideous, and this is the only surviving photo of me from those years where I’m not in costume. It was taken just before the prom in 5th form.
Anyway, in the spirit of not-reunion, the Good Things. I had some sterling teachers. Paul Rosanowski had an invisible dog he used to send troublesome students out to walk. It was tragically run over and replaced with an invisible giraffe. He drove the senior staff crazy, but the kids loved him. We also had huge respect for John Fitzsimons, the only teacher who ever got called ‘sir’. Any kid giving him grief would be taken aside and ‘sorted out’ by some of Fitz’s larger and scarier fans. He taught English and took the Drama club, and there was a tweedy Englishness about him that should have got him ridiculed, but we loved him.
My personal difference-maker was John Brown, the biology teacher. He loved his subject, actually liked teaching, would go off on huge tangents, extend us, indulge our curiosity, and we’d end up hugely behind on the curriculum, but people would stay half an hour or an hour after school to finish stuff. I adored him. I also adored his eldest son, who was in my year, and the other top bio student. Competition and naked lust are both healthy things, but it’s probably healthier when everyone’s sure which member of a family you fancy the most.
What distinguished those three, I think, was the sense that they cared about us as people. We weren’t just ‘students’ to them. They would have conversations with us, and they could communicate a passion for their subjects. I actually got better marks under the English teacher I hated, but the marks just weren’t the point. (Also, she cast me as Helen in A Taste of Honey. Ahahahahaha fuck you.)
Mountainview was a small school, and by the time our year reached 7th form, there were only forty-five of us left. All the previous little cliques broke down to some extent. It was quite surreal to realise that the ‘popular’ kids weren’t happy and none of their friends actually liked them, and a valuable lesson
So thanks, high school, for not sucking as much as you could have. But given the choice between a school reunion and brain surgery, Sharon was completely right. I will go to great lengths.