Twelve years ago, I was invited to a school reunion. It was a strange experience, catching up with people I hadn’t seen since I left the school of hard knocks in the birthplace of powered fight in 1979.
It started in the working men’s club that had recently been ravaged by fire. The paintwork was charred and there was still a sort of burnt smell in the air. I was hugged by the school bully, chatted up by the boy who had rejected me when I was twelve for having no personality and then Dancing Queen blared out from the disco next door as the formerly closet gay came out in all his glory.
We moved on to gatecrash a party at the rugby club and the boys and girls who went out with each other at the age of thirteen ended up smooching to Lionel Richie on the dance floor. As the lights came back on, we all decamped to a friend’s house where the school swot lit up a joint.
Through it all, I was totally sober and well behaved (unlike when I was at school where my quiet, studious side was gobbled up by a quiet rebel desperate to fit in). It was fascinating to watch the gentle drama unfolding around me but rather unnerving.
My school days were not the best of my life. Coming from a village school of twenty to a school year of two hundred was a shock that took me years to overcome.
An old friend of mine later confided after that reunion: “Do you know, it was the weirdest thing. I felt uncomfortable for months afterwards. The whole evening was surreal and stayed etched on my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
Wind the clock forward to the present.
I’m walking up the steps of the Perry Street Club, in the middle of nowhere in Somerset. Dancing Queen is again playing as I stride confidently up the steps, with no fear.
At home, after casting aside five outfits, doing a twirl for assembled dinner guests and a grumpy Mr Grigg not at all keen about me leaving for the evening, I was ready for anything.
I walk into the room and the music keeps playing. There is no tumbleweed moment. Everyone still chats among themselves.
As I stand at the door, a gaggle of girls turns around in unison. One of them screams out and runs across to give me the biggest hug I’ve had in years. It is an emotional moment.
‘We’re so pleased you came, so pleased,’ she says.
And I’m pleased too. Clutching a pint of cider, I pore over the old school photos at the bar, pose for new ones and find out what people have been up to. Careers, kids, relationships. So much has happened over the years.
But do you know the biggest change? It’s me. I’m not afraid any more.
That’s about it.
Love Maddie x
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