A consequence of the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown is that I’m staring at my phone more. I know it’s wrong but I can’t stop swiping. And I’ve come across a Facebook group dedicated to my school’s alumni. There they all are, 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. It must be the fact we have more past than future that’s exciting my classmates. I put it down to nervous chatter.
Swiping 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 changed 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 bad knees and bald heads – or is that just me again?
Not everyone in my year has joined the group and most of those who have, dip in and out. I wonder how many there are like me, who watch silently from the sidelines. I suspect I haven’t declared myself for the same reason we lost contact in the first place: the bonds weren’t sufficient. As in all things, natural selection knows best. Interestingly, those with whom I have kept in touch haven’t appeared in the group either. I’m not sure what that says but I think it says something. Perhaps we all died and no-one told us.
There are, however, a few who post comments all the time, and I’m ashamed to say this raises uncharitable thoughts. Is it because they prefer who they were to who they now are? Or is it vice-versa – a chance to rewrite history by replacing one personality with another? Time, the great leveler. Be nice now and people might forget what an awful shit you once were. The irony is that those who keep feeding the discussions of school memories, were, at the time, the keenest to leave school.
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, but I wonder how long this social re-balancing will last. Once a Piggy always a Piggy, as Ralph and Jack might write on their post-apocalyptic Island Friends’ page.
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 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? It’s clear the idyll is not to be broken. This is a happy website for happy memories. Even so, 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. We are challenged with questions such as ‘who was your favourite teacher’ and ‘what music did you dance to’. I liked to head-bang to Lyrnyrd Skyrnd but that’s not something I’d want to share with the group. Or should. We all have our murky secrets. But frankly, there are only so many posts I can read on the subject of ‘who remembers Miss Finaghty’ before time spent in this way becomes disappointingly repetitive.
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 secretly trying to walk up the down escalator.
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 still hope to be in it.