Class of 83
It was my school reunion this past weekend. The Class of 83. I wanted to go and would have gone if I hadn’t been needed elsewhere. Now the photos and videos are rolling in. Some people joined in by Skype. Even though I knew what a lot of people are doing (and made and kept very close friends with some of them) it was different to see people moving and talking. They looked like themselves but not. It was weird to see the same mannerisms, the way someone folded their arms against their body, the same way of laughing. It shouldn’t be surprising, but it is.
As if this wasn’t enough to bring back those memories, I went to see The Falling. Directed by Carol Morley and with a soundtrack by Tracy Thorn, it’s the eerie, visually stunning and beguiling story of an outbreak of mass fainting and hysteria at an all girl’s boarding school set in the late 1960s. It conjured up so many memories: the elderly spinster teachers berating us for hoiking up our skirts, those very intense friendships, the rumours spreading like wildfire. I was back in our chemistry lab with its bunsen burners and Belfast sinks – the smell of sulphur mixed with charred wood (from those long handled pincer like pegs); the biology lab with its rows of frogs and hedgehogs suspended upside down in pickling jars.
My school was once an elegant Georgian manor house, built from honey coloured stone, with symmetrically placed sash windows, terraces, spiral staircases, and a warren of attic rooms – once the servants quarters. The bursar worked in the cellar, and reported us for holding seances down there. I see us in our stupid bottle green tulip-shaped bonnets which obscured your line of vision when you turned your head to the left, to the right. They had to ban them when a girl was killed crossing the road. I still don’t know if that’s apocryphal.
And finally, because these things always come in threes I find, I stumbled across this project called Yearbook. (listen here on Soundcloud). It’s an ongoing project by Luke Wiget interviewing writers and the first is an interview with an author called Darcey Steinke (who I’ve only just discovered but Sister Golden Hair is how I’d like to be able to write). It throws up all sorts of interesting questions about how writers mine their own lives for material, how people saw you versus how you saw yourself. We didn’t have Yearbooks – they’re not really done in the UK. I still have my autograph book though – the candy coloured pages are warped like a Marcel Wave. On the last day of school, I fell (or was I pushed?) into the pond onto a hidden bed of jagged glass from discarded school milk bottles and cut my leg through to the bone. The scar on my shin, listed on my passport, serves as a constant reminder.