Mnemosyne* has been busy these last two or three weeks, poking about in the ashes I mentioned in my last post but one. This time, with a very long poker.
This week, an e-mail came from the secretary of the alumni association of the Grammar School I attended from the ages of 11 to 18, informing me that a former classmate was looking for me. Would I be interested in contacting him? Wow! After 60 years? Certainly – it’s a wonder we are both still alive and able to communicate intelligibly! So after a little bit of e-mail correspondence I was able to update my app and we could Skype.
Of course, had we bumped into one another on the street we would never have recognised each other. I remembered a rather spotty, skinny dark-haired lad in short grey flannel trousers who was always something of a joker, and here was a grey-bearded retired professor. What he remembered about me exactly, he was too polite to say! Except that I used to wear glasses.
It’s always interesting comparing memories, and I have to think of the song “Yes, I remember it well” from the musical Gigi. Some of the people I mentioned rang no bells at all for him, and some of the events that had made a big impression on him had vanished from my mind. Did we really share a desk at one time? I can only conclude I was being punished for talking in class, and made to sit by a boy instead of one of my girl friends.
He recalled our English literature lessons in the fifth form: “We read Trollope’s book ‘The Warden’ – so deadly boring, put us all to sleep …” and I had to giggle because I suddenly remembered: “Oh yes, we hid alarm clocks around the room set to go off at 15 minute intervals!” Our English teacher was not amused, but here we are, almost 65 years later, still chuckling. I know that was my idea, but I think he also provided a couple of the clocks.
We were to some extent in personal competition, both of us good at the same subjects, and I certainly enjoyed a feeling of triumph on the occasions I got 1 or 2 percent more than he did. He admitted to feeling the same. We both went on to read French at university, and were in fact interviewed and accepted at the same ones, but he went to Leicester and I to Liverpool so after the age of 18 we never saw one another again.
Now, in retrospect we compared the university courses we followed and I must say that I think my course at Liverpool was better than his at Leicester. Funnily enough, we had both applied quite independently to spend our final year in Aix-en-Provence, and in my case that’s what happened. He, however, didn’t. It would have been interesting if our paths had crossed again at that point. We both started off in teaching careers. After university, I went to Germany and eventually Switzerland. He went to France, the States, and back to France where he has now been living for the past 50 years, having taught at the same university for the rest of his working life. Our children are the same age.
So even after a 60-year hiatus, we still have plenty in common to talk about. His wife joined in the Skype conversation, and warmly invited me to go and visit them “when all this Covid stuff is over”. Maybe I will, if I can find a way of getting there! In the meantime, I’m joining his book club which is now meeting via Zoom. That will help refresh my conversational French. Thank you, Covid-19! And B, if you read this, mille grâces ! A bientôt !
*Greek goddess of memory