A consequence of the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown is I look at my phone more, swiping through news feeds and TikTok videos and articles on why I shouldn’t be staring at my phone. Thankfully, I’m passing through this phase into one of toxic homemade cocktails. But along the way I discovered a Facebook group dedicated to my school’s alumni – my classmates: the good, the bad and the extremely naughty, all grown-up. It’s meant to be a forum for all ex-pupils but the posts are dominated by my cohort. I suppose having more past than future is as good a reason as any to kick off an ‘are you still alive’ retrospective.
Scrolling through the discussions I find their ‘voices’ sound the same today as they did all those years ago. This shouldn’t surprise me but it does. They don’t seem to have aged at all – although the Facebook photographs suggest otherwise. We look like our parents and some of us look like our grandparents. Especially me. Gravity takes its toll and the weight of years has led to dodgy knees and bald heads – or is that just me again?
It might have been just an amusing half hour strolling (or scrolling) down memory lane, an interesting diversion from life’s main thoroughfare, but I found myself reflecting on what Time may have thrown at these once-young people, some of whom I knew when I was five. Joining the dots between then and now is a sobering exercise in existentialism. Definitely time for more cocktails.
Not everyone in my year has joined the group and most of those who have, dip in and out. I didn’t join and I can’t explain why. Perhaps it’s the same reason we lost contact in the first place: the bonds aren’t strong enough. Or perhaps I’m just plain antisocial – which seems more likely. Interestingly, those with whom I have kept in touch don’t appear in the group either. I’m not sure what that says but I think it says something. Perhaps we died and no-one told us.
There are, however, a few who post comments all the time, feeding discussions of school memories with an enthusiastic regularity. The irony is I remember these people as being the keenest to leave school. I have a sneaking suspicion that a few might prefer who they once were to who they are now – or perhaps it’s vice-versa, they see a chance to rewrite history by replacing their old self with a modern version. Time, the great leveler. Be nice now and people might forget what an awful shit you once were.
That’s a bit mean, but certainly friends I remember being pushed to the fringes of playground society are now in cheerful discourse with those who pushed them there. That’s good and long may it continue, but I wonder if this social re-balancing would last were we all to be physically reunited for more than a day or two. It’s hard to imagine Piggy sharing rose-tinted memories with Roger and Jack on their post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies Friends’ page. ‘Do you remember that lovely time you stole my glasses and then dropped a boulder on my head?’
Talking of Piggy, I was hoping to find some posts about me but disappointingly my name seldom crops up. I am so absent I had to check I actually went to that school. It seems I left little or no impression on anybody which is odd because I have a clear recollection of being extraordinarily popular. Too bad that’s a memory nobody else shares. Not even my friends.
However, other, darker, memories are posted. Complaints of casual racism, chronic bullying and punitive abuse by teachers. But just as casually, any attempt to discuss these traumas are closed down with comments such as ‘that was then and this is now’ and ‘it’s best to move on.’ Best for whom, one wonders? And move on to what? Voices unheard all those years ago remain unheard; the idyll is not to be broken. I am reminded that it is dangerous to be different. That is true now and it certainly was then.
And so the posts return to safer ground with questions such as ‘who was your favourite teacher’ and ‘what music did you dance to’. I liked to head-bang to progressive rock but that’s not something I’d want to share with the group. Or should. We all have our murky secrets.
I have a platonic relationship with the past. I don’t want to forget it but I also don’t want to relive it. I would jump at the chance to be sixteen again (knees permitting), but only if I could take my current mind with me. I suppose like most people I am trying to walk up Time’s down escalator.
And being social media migrants means we should be careful about getting too carried away in an online world. We might forget this jaunt down memory lane is in reality a public and open forum. Feelings can be hurt, confidences broken, libel laws breached. Worse still, we might encourage each other to wear cheesecloth again.
One day we will all know everything about everyone. There will be no secrets and the past will sit side-by-side with the present. Only the future will remain unknown and unknowable, as COVID-19 has demonstrated. But that’s how it should be. ‘That was then and this is now’ is indisputably true, but it’s tomorrow that interests me. Especially as I hope to be in it.