The nostalgia that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago continued this week with another little blast from the past.
Our paths crossed in the nineteen-seventies when I was working for the International Baccalaureate Organisation in Geneva, where we were developing the art curriculum. Norman Perryman was Chief Examiner for Art at the time. We both moved away from Geneva and lost touch for a while, as frequently happens in our increasingly mobile society, but then re-established contact thanks to mutual friends and the blessings of e-mail and the Internet.
This week, after 35 years, our physical paths crossed once more as Norman, now quite famous, arrived at Birmingham Symphony Hall for the launch of his book “A Life Painting Music”. Birmingham is only an hour away from here on the bus and then there’s a short walk through the most pleasant modern part of town to the Symphony Hall, so I was eager to take advantage of this opportunity for a brief reunion.
Old friends agreed to stay with my mother while I went out; she was very pleased to have a change of company and their presence put my mind at ease. The bus ride traverses some of this country’s ugliest scenery, but the ethnic variety of passengers is fascinating and I heard at least seven or eight different languages spoken, from Chinese, Urdu and Gujarati to Russian, Polish and Romanian, African French and some (to me) unidentifiable tongues. Oh, and the local dialect of course, intermingled with the Caribbean lilt that is so well established here. This is truly a melting pot.
Next to the Symphony Hall shop Norman was already seated, awaiting the onrush of fans eager to buy signed copies of his book. I was a few minutes early, so was first in line. I’m pleased to report that we are both sufficiently well preserved that we did actually recognise each other immediately, despite the footprints of time left all over us! And we were able to chat for a few minutes before the tide began to come in and he had to turn his charm onto those who help provide his bread and butter. Of course I joined the fans, and bought several copies of the book and some cards.
This kind of first encounter with people not seen for many years is always rather disconcerting. For a brief moment, you discover that old persona, long discarded and forgotten. After a few seconds you don’t see the elderly person your friend has become; the younger version is somehow superimposed, and that is the one you relate to, still there hidden under the strata deposited by the years. The clock whizzes back, and suddenly you both inhabit those old selves, fossilised in their layer of time, that you outgrew long ago. And it’s a shock to find that the fossils are still sentient, still alive, in a state of suspended animation. It’s a happy discovery, and I know I usually end up grinning like a Cheshire cat in these cases.
Altogether I was there for half an hour: no time to attend the concert or wander around, go for a meal or do any of the tempting things on offer in the neighbourhood. I needed to get back and relieve my granny-sitting friends. It was dark by this time, so I decided to indulge in a taxi instead of traipsing back to the bus stop and sampling the dubious or exotic adventures of a bus ride, and was back to the future in twenty-five minutes. My friends were surprised to see me back so soon. Was it worth it? Definitely. Norman and I may never see one another again, but my Cheshire cat grin is still on my face.