Five decades ago – whilst incarcerated in the countryside at public school – my boarding house was joined for a single academic year by an American. In the intervening years we have exchanged occasion letters and latterly emails and last week, when he came to London briefly, we took the opportunity (for only the fourth time ever) to meet up for dinner.
Such reunions have probably as many dangers as anticipated pleasures. Human beings may come briefly into contact with each other – form friendships or even the the opposite – and then set off upon their different life journeys and may or may not ever bump into each other again. When they do, whether that be by accident or design, they carry with them their growing personal baggage arising from the gap since they last met and the various experiences of living that they have encountered in the meantime, which may be very different from the other person’s.
Do they still have much – anything – in common? Probably, since they’ve made the effort, they’re hoping so.
I guess that those who have spent five formative years in school together – or say a similar period of service in the military, or employed the same organisation – will probably have some form of bond upon which to sustain, if not a strong friendship, at least a togetherness capable of carrying them through a reunion a decade or more later. Or certainly allow them to imagine they’ll have enough in common to last a three course meal and a bottle of wine or two.
However, would characters that spend just ten months living on top of each other – irrespective of the intensity of the camaraderie involved – still have it?
We admitted that in advance we had both wondered firstly, whether we would still have [whatever degree of friendship we once had] when we now met in the present and secondly, would our companion be more disturbed or amused by just how little we could remember about the old days?
I suspect these are just inevitable products of the ageing process. We may feel permanently about eighteen – or maybe that should be thirty-eight – inside, but it’s a natural human trait to assume that others will have changed out of all recognition over the years. Because we all do – that’s half the disappointment of life.
When someone introduces their wife to you for the first time ever (as happened last week) and she says “I’ve heard so much about you …” your heart sinks.
What will she have heard about you?
In this case, it will probably be about how I was or used to behave as a 16 year old nearly fifty years ago – or at least how her husband remembers it. And what will that be, exactly, given that only five minutes previously he had admitted across the table “I apologise before we begin, I’ll remember far less about the old days than you will …”?
Penny to a pound, his recollections will at best be hazy and concentrate upon the wild or silly things he claims to remember I got up to (but de facto probably didn’t).
Furthermore, given the above, should I try and play up to this image of me that he’s probably described to his wife?
Before I can do that, of course, I have to work out what the hell it might have been. And that’s going to be difficult because – as I sit here typing – I can recall precious little about anything pre-2002, still less the academic year of 1967/68, myself.
As it happened, we ended having had a thoroughly enjoyable wide-ranging conversation with plenty of laughs, sharing our family information and news, comparing notes on ‘where we were now’ and what we had planned for the future.
Another couple of hours in each other’s company to add to the approximately ten or so we have managed in the last 48 years …