By Colin Payn
a strong cup of tea with sugar for the shock
On a perfect summer day, three old friends met for one of their six monthly rambles, picking over their nearly fifty years of friendship whilst seeking to make new memories.
In view of the revelations to follow, their location, route and destination had better remain secret, suffice it to say that it was once well travelled by them as they went to the same secondary school every day.
Leaving school in the late 1950s had been a time to find that the world displayed many paths for lively minds. One went to university, and never really left, becoming a lecturer before joining the management team. Another went to university and joined a large commercial company as part of their marketing team. The third took a more circuitous route, starting in engineering and several jobs later, becoming a company representative, all shiny new cars and a volatile income. Between them, they studied the refraction of light, rewarding consumers and selling repackaged data, had various marriages, several children, and one divorce, and kept in touch with very occasional meetings at a little Italian restaurant in the West End.
With retirement came the opportunity to widen the scope of venues, until that fateful day when a trip to their old school was proposed. It was during the summer holidays but there was a chance that a caretaker might be persuaded to let them look around. But, firstly there was a pleasant walk through the countryside, that once was rushed, with duffle bags full of books and apprehension about unfinished homework, forgotten gym kit and boring music lessons.
Passing a pond there were memories of fishing exploits, the disappointment of the catch dying shortly after being dumped in the old tin bath in the garden, with a handful of muddy weed. Water suddenly gurgling over the top of wellington boots in an excited strike, and stale sandwiches softened by rank pond water hands, and still eaten with relish.
Seeing the steep side of a field, where once slow worms were dug out and described as dangerous snakes to shrieking girls, both side playing the eternal game of teenage hormones. The ignoring of the ‘No Cycling’ notices over some of the paths, with a wary eye out for Park Keepers who could identify a school uniform from half a mile away.
The school at the bottom of the final hill, looking more insignificant than its massive impact on their young lives. Even walking along the drive, once the preserve of teachers and prefects only, the building seemed more squat, the brick façade less loved, the porticoed entrance less impressive. There were also several big lorries outside with large numbers of cables coiling into the building. Perhaps refurbishment work taking place during the holidays?
Stepping carefully into the rather dark entrance, instead of a large open area with a board greeting visitors, now there was a reception counter and a harassed looking lady peering at the trio.
‘Are you with the production company?’
That was a puzzler. If they said ‘Yes’ they might get the run of the place, but it could lead to complications as they had no idea what was being produced. On the other hand, ‘No’ might mean they would be turned away. They opted for an honest explanation of their status as Old ----------‘s, and their wish to remember the good and bad times they had as schoolboys in the building.
‘OK, but mind the cables, there’s a film crew in there.’
A film crew, that was a turn up. They speculated on a history of the school. It was quite a famous all boys Grammar school when they went there. Or perhaps an educational project by the local Council. But, at least they had an explanation for the lorries outside with polluting generators pounding away.
They moved from the familiar hall to classrooms where the blackboards were now whiteboards or screens, to the green of the quad, now a scruffy area of grass, obviously long since abandoned from the imposition of detentions for walking on it. The corridors appeared cramped since they had daily jostled their way from lesson to lesson. For two it arose thoughts of nostalgia, for one a depressing memory of constant dislike of authoritarianism and the unthinking mimicry of private schools.
Upstairs, more cables everywhere, and the school darkroom, or where it used to be. The three were keen photographers in those days, buying cans of 35mm film and using the darkroom to cut and load it into cassettes to halve the price of shop bought films. The place where the first wonder of a print evolved from white bromide paper to emerge slowly to become a full black and white photo in the developing tray.
‘Let’s go and look at the music room. I heard there is now a big gym built on the back of where it used to be.’
The boring music lessons, all about the lives of composers and staves and minims, but very seldom any music. A special occasion when the big box of the record player was supervised by the master as he lovingly took the 78’s from their paper covers and placed them reverently on the turntable. By now we all had singles, 45’s and even an expensive LP, but not the music master.
Navigating to the old space that was the music room it had now become a gallery with a floor to ceiling window looking down into the new gym.
Could they believe their eyes? There were people playing a game in the gym. Girls. Naked girls.
The three of them were transfixed, watching as the director issued instructions and the cameraman signalled from the big tripod mounted film camera. Pleasant though the situation was, obviously they were spectators who would probably be asked to leave if anyone noticed them. Still, no immediate rush. There was time to take in the whole scene that was obviously for public consumption at some time. Maybe nude aerobics were the coming thing, and everybody would be joining such classes in the near future.
Hearing noises from behind them, they reluctantly came away from the viewing room and moved along the corridor, only to find another scene being set up with a very buxom girl in a skimpy school uniform and a lad in an equally unlikely get up, being taken through their lines by a man who looked thoroughly bored.
This was obviously no health and fitness film!
Emerging into the bright sunlight and finding that the old café was still serving mediocre tea, coffee and iced buns, the three men recovered their facility for speech. The opinion on the type of film they had witnessed being made in their once prestigious, school was unanimous. How on earth had the authorities allowed the school premises to be used in this way? Did they even know? What on earth did the Receptionist think was going on, when twenty or more girls turned up with little in the way of a wardrobe between them?
Such thoughts were repeated, with variations, on the walk back, the scenery going largely unnoticed, as they discussed their most shocking school visit.
About the author
Writer, 'The Future Brokers' 'Dot's Legacy' 'Beyond the Park Gates'
'Transport of Dreams' All available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/34Ggfco