Last week I joined an informal gathering of gents from my old school. I’m not normally one for school reunions but on this occasion I’d met the organiser about a month before and he absolutely insisted I attend. On the day in question I travelled more out of a sense of obligation than anything because, inevitably, by then I had several urgent things to do and taking the bulk out of the day to have lunch with a group of oldish men, most of whom I wouldn’t know, seemed a waste of my valuable time in prospect.
In the event, although I quite enjoyed the experience, I never quite lost the conviction that I’d have been better employed trying to zip through my pressing list of ‘to do’s, which no doubt serves me right. If I hadn’t set off prejudiced I probably wouldn’t have remained prejudiced.
One notable aspect of these sort of gatherings is that, with nine attendees sitting at a rectangular table, the chances of being able to have more of an exchange than a wave and a bellowed “And how are you?” with those at the opposite end are decidedly small.
The other thing that struck me for no particular reason was how people turn out.
I was probably the oldest person present – the bulk were in their fifties – and one chap I didn’t know particularly well (he was probably just fifteen when I left school aged eighteen forty-plus years ago and at school a three year gap is positively gigantic) was the younger brother of someone I played a lot of sport with.
In general, those at the lunch had fared pretty well. Okay, some has lost hair, gone degrees of grey, and grown paunches and/or pillar-box wide, but most of us were recognisable as what we used to be decades before, when we lived in each other’s pockets, only older.
However, the gentleman I’m referring to was in a different league. Instead of presenting (like the rest of us) as kids who now just looked a little older than they used to, he arrived as if from another planet.
You know how, when you’re at primary school, any grown man over the age of thirty looks at least fifty? So much older than you that you have a strong sense of feeling that, however long you might live, you’re never going to look as mature as he does?
That’s how this guy looked.
It wasn’t that he had snow-white hair, or excessive ageing lines, or was frail, or moved in a doddery fashion like an old man. He didn’t. He moved, spoke and looked like the well-preserved gentleman close to his sixtieth birthday that he is.
He had a ruddy face, dark sandy-coloured hair flecked with bits of grey and slightly bushy eyebrows, but that was about it.
It was just that he made me – de facto about three years older – feel like I was somewhere between the age of 10 to 15 and in the presence of a respected authoritative schoolmaster.