“School is the best time of your life. Make the most of it. You’ll miss it when you’ve grown up and left.”
That’s what my parents always used to say to me as I advanced through my full-time education. I’d wager that anyone reading has heard the same on more than one occasion. Was it true? Well, yes and no. While I was at school, as much as I liked it, I couldn’t wait to get out into the real world, get a job, make some money, stay up as late as I liked, eat, drink and watch what I wanted to etc.
And I do like my life. A lot. I like my job, I have good friends and a supportive family. I even don’t mind having to wash my own clothes, cook my own food, go out to work – all that stuff you’re supposed to do as a responsible adult. I don’t miss the long, boring lessons learning stuff I already knew, waiting for that school bell to signal freedom (it does seem that the clock-watching, however, transfers to even the most enjoyable of jobs on occasion)!
What I miss most about school is the people. I often think fondly of favourite teachers and sometimes even the ones who, at the time, were less popular. But for me, the lifeblood of my time at Lodge Park was my fellow students. I’m very lucky to have shared a year group with a very close-knit gang.
Yes, of course, there were the stereotypical cliques you’ll find in any school within our year: The popular set, the sporting heroes, the geeks, the hippies, the high-achievers, the troublemakers, but on the whole, we all respected each other and enjoyed each other’s company.
Large groups of us would often meet up for a burger in McDonald’s or a film at the magnificent Corby Forum (we took up about half the cinema when we went to see Dick Tracey and Honey I Shrunk The Kids). We’d always stop to chat if we spotted one another in town, no matter which clique we belonged to. One of the athletic types was never ashamed to be seen chatting with an overweight nerd like me.
We didn’t tend to have enemies or rivals. There might have been the odd fight here and there over trivial matters, but it was normally forgiven by the end of the day and thankfully, there was very little bullying.
But all that came to an end in the summer of 1991, when Bryan Adams had just begun his monumental reign of the UK singles charts. We all went on to new studies, careers, families and opportunities. Some stayed at home, an equal number spread all across the country (or even further afield), and one or two ended up serving time at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
And a very small few are, regretfully, no longer with us.
We had moved on. We had new lives, new families and, aside from one or two of our very closest chums, new friends. That was it. A page turned in an old book for the last time.
And then came Facebook. Admit it – we all received friend requests from people we didn’t remember or didn’t recognise, those who had changed their look or their name, or who we just didn’t really hang out with that often. For over ten years we logged on to and get little glimpses of what we’d all been up to – some being more prolific users than others (I hold my hands up to being guilty as charged, and apologise for the influx of Tim Vine jokes you must have endured)! There was talk of a reunion now and again, but nothing came to fruition.
Until a couple of days after Christmas 2017. Suddenly, after years of silence, a very good friend to many of us started to comment on people’s posts and photos and reply to private messages. This was the momentum needed to set the wheels in motion. A Facebook group was created and within hardly any time at all, a date was set and a venue booked (and then cancelled, and then rebooked) and invites were sent out. Many people said they could actually come. It was really happening.
As the date drew closer, chatter on the group became increasingly excitable. I had a banner of our year-group photo made up at work and put together a playlist of all the songs that were chart hits during our time at school (using my long unused but never forgotten mixtape making skills).
When the night finally rolled around, I was first on the scene. I waited for 15 minutes, in the function room on my own, wondering if this was going to be a total bust. Would anyone actually come? Would we all have changed so much that we had nothing in common and nothing to talk about?
I knew Neal, one of my best mates, was on his way, so I got the drinks in. And then it was the two of us. Soon Marcus arrived – another of our old gang. We had all seen each other quite recently so it was not really much of a reunion! Shortly after Gary, the owner of the venue, who also just happened to be from our year, arrived, Lucy and Helen turned up. And Marie. And Scott. And Maxine. And Nicola. And Michelle. And so on…
We went through a good half hour of the inevitable “Oh my God! It’s so good to see you! You haven’t changed a bit! Wow! I can’t believe it!” with handshakes and hugs (I’m not even joking when I say that I hugged more girls on that night than I did between September 1986 and July 1991).
And that’s when it happened. Once all the greeting and laughing and screaming and hugging had ended, Just like that, we slipped back into half-finished conversations like we’d only just seen each other the week before. People who I have had nothing to do with for over a quarter of a century suddenly asking after my parents and brothers, chatting about a film we once watched together, remembering bands we used to listen to, games we used to play, funny moments we shared.
And suddenly, we were no longer forty-three-year-old teachers, IT technicians, police officers, driving instructors etc. We were sixteen, sneaking into the pub hoping the landlord wouldn’t ask to see our ID, singing, dancing, laughing, enjoying each other’s company into the wee small hours (wee-er and smaller than expected due to the clocks moving forward an hour that night!).
Old jokes and nicknames were resurrected. You know you’re with good friends when you can insult them in good humour, and take the same teasing back, knowing their intention is also only good fun. The camaraderie I mentioned earlier hadn’t faded. Bonds may have been stretched by time and distance but it turns out that they are actually unbreakable.
It wasn’t just a good night. It was an amazing night, with a group of people who it is my absolute privilege to have spent five years in close proximity to all that time ago. Whenever I write, my time at Lodge Park is always there, guiding my words. You guys are my inspiration. It’s not just nostalgia, it’s something much stronger and that night out, in The Everard Arms function room in March 2018 proved it.
You are, and always shall be, my friends. Thank you.
For George & Terri. You were missed on Saturday.
Badgers Crossing collaborator Robert Johns has written an exclusive school-related ghost story for the site, which I will publish later in the week. I am also putting the finishing touches to a spooky tale myself, the title of which is enough to streak fear into anyone who was a third-year student at Lodge Park in 1988: Cloakroom Duty.