I left school on a cloudy day in April, 1984.
It was mid-morning and in truth, I hadn’t even needed to go in at all.
But I didn’t really want to leave and I had nothing better to do.
So I went and there was no-one there; the darkened Common Room lay empty.
The Disney tunes album we’d jokingly played to death for the past nine months sat silently on the turntable, but there were no laughs to be had by putting it on without an audience, so I let it lie.
By mid-morning, I’d had enough of the quizzical ‘what are you still doing here?’ looks from passing teachers, so I sacked it and sat on the wall waiting for the bus for the very last time, alone. Self-conscious and self-centred in equal measure, I felt as if the entire school was gazing at me from the rattling steel-framed windows.
In truth, nobody probably gave me a second glance; despite being pretty good at English and history, I was booked into a YTS scheme starting in a couple of weeks, digging trenches for £25-a-week. Box ticked. Job done.
In return, I’ve barely looked back for the past 30 years.
The trench ‘job’ didn’t last long and I soon found myself back at college doing A-levels and somehow striking out on a career that’s taken me to places I’d never otherwise have seen, doing things I’d never have dreamed of and meeting people beyond my wildest dreams (thanks again for the biscuits, Your Majesty).
The most important lesson school taught me was ‘you’re on your own’ and once that eventually registered, I’ve never really given much thought to my bogstandard comp.
Until last week, when a couple of former classmates arranged our first ever Class of ’84 reunion.
I’ve got to admit, I was nervous about going. It was in a northern town called Malice and I’m only barely in touch with anyone from my old year.
Would I recognise anyone? Would they recognise this significantly fatter version of me?
I don’t know why, but I pictured a room of ‘smug marrieds’ in shirts and ties and M&S frocks.
After all, this lot are nudging 50 soon.
Instead, I was greeted by a smiling of faces I instantly recognised as halcyon days returned in the blink of an eye.
Having fun, playing fools, smashing up the woodwork tools. Oh, what fun we had, but at the time it seemed so bad.
The girls looked almost unchanged, mingling in the same little groups they had from First Year to Fifth.
The boys were still ‘lads’ in classic 80’s polos and non-Dad jeans.
The funny ones were still funny, the friendly ones still lovely and the cool kids, well, there weren’t any cool kids in our year – apart from me, obviously.
Even a couple of teachers showed up as we talked football (of course), music and what we’d all been up to for the past three decades.
In general, people were happy, living normal lives, raising families, getting on with life and mostly succeeding despite the old-school education, rather than because of it.
There were only one or two I couldn’t place, especially a strange posh-sounding laydee who seemed to be saying she’d flown up from Devon by private plane. Oh really?
Wake me up before you go go.
Not wanting to be the lone weirdo nudging up to people desperately asking ‘remember me?’, I took my girlfriend along for protection.
That backfired. Not only was she subjected to an 80’s soundtrack from before she was born, but she had to look interested while listening to people she’d never met, talking about places she’d never been, in an accent she could barely understand.
Someone later told me that protocol is not to take your other half to these dos, but how was I to know? This was my first one.
But, God willing, it won’t be the last.
I hope we don’t leave it another 30 years too, because there was already a roll call of missing persons from the register; taken by tragedy, toil or the bottle.
Three decades have raced past, but the common bond has endured despite distance, differences and divorce.
So if you’re looking for a point to these back-of-the-bus ramblings, it’s treasure your schooldays and cherish the friendships you form.
Keep in touch with your mates and don’t leave it 30 years before you see them again.
Thick as thieves us, we’ll stick together for all time.