I was at school with Claudette from the ages of 4 to 18 and Carol from 5 to 10. Kathy moved to town when she was 10 and became my best friend for the rest of our school days. Glenn was my first ever boyfriend (first date set up by Kathy at the age of 14, holding hands nervously at the film of Godspell, very conscious of my parents sitting three rows behind us in the cinema).
I haven’t seen Claudette, Carol or Glenn since I left school in 1976. Kathy now lives in New Zealand and while I have stayed in touch over the years I hardly ever see her. Creina has been a family friend since I was 4; she was also my French teacher and more responsible than anyone else for teaching me to think. She lives in North Wales.
For most, a school reunion isn’t anything special, but when you grew up in Umtali, Rhodesia, a town of some 10,000 people on the remote eastern Mozambique border, it becomes a very big deal indeed. The town is now Mutare, the country is now Zimbabwe, a whole way of life has changed, the people I grew up have scattered across four continents.
On Sunday, in St James Park, one of the other schools, Umtali Girls High School (not even my school) – held a reunion picnic to celebrate their centenary, inviting anyone from our tiny outpost of Africa to join in.
For once, this summer, the sun shone. The deckchair man was vigilant in demanding his £1.50. People rushed around trying to work out if they knew you behind the inevitable swelling caused by age and beer (Rhodies love their beer). It was all-white and backward-looking in some ways, but it was comfortable. No need for explanations, a shared experience of something long gone, a common past and old friends and memories. There were the people I grew up with, talking about the plays my mother produced for the local amateur theatre, the competitive puddings on the local dinner party circuit, Nolan’s Electrical shop where I had my first Saturday job, Claudette and Carol who shared my earliest birthday parties and Glenn who shared my first fumbling attempts at romance. And Kathy who shared all my teenage adventures. It was a scary, extraordinary, special afternoon. Thank you, UGHS, for letting me relive a time and place far away and long ago.