Saturday, 16 July 2011

Meeting Myself Going Backwards.

A day of reunion and a chance to say goodbye to the European School, which after over thirty years of operation is closing. About 400 former students and teachers gathered to chat, reminisce and show their own children and partners around.

When it opened in 1978, the school was a bit of an experiment - over twenty different nationalities were organised into five different language sections, working within a curriculum focused on European integration. We were taught to be European citizens first, nationals second. We worked together in a spirit of diplomacy, without many rules beyond the pragmatism of respect. It led to a very lenient, open and generous culture where the only thing not tolerated was intolerance itself. We had no uniforms, were worked very hard, encouraged to run things, listened to seriously, laughed a lot, travelled quite a bit and knew no better. It's a form of progressive education that in the days of league tables, and outcome focused syllabus seems as arcane as the Rubik cube or the Berlin Wall.

Visits to the past are by definition evocative, but in true Proustian style it was the smell of the old rooms that conjured up memories, feelings and reactions long submerged in the intervening years. I walked into the boys changing room and immediately the goose bumps appeared as the excitement and anticipation of the football match to come took over. The dusty hall took me back to final year exams and the secure knowledge that how I performed over a few hours, under conditions, would dictate a large part of the future that I'm currently enjoying and the Chapel; home of assemblies and the site of so many instructions and groundbreaking announcements, which seemed at the time epic in scale.

A handful of my year group were there; Lucy, bringing her three children, came over from Denmark. Jayne brought her husband Steve, stepson Liam and her Mum, who in her day was a formidable chair of the parent's association. John, with his partner Phillipa, expecting their first child in the Autumn an Boris who brought his wife Ruth and their clan of children down from Chester. Alongside these familiar faces, a clutch of siblings brought news of other old friends who for one reason or another couldn't attend - April, Maria, Mehdi, Laurence and Giovanni. It was lovely to have the chance to send them good wishes and remembrances.

More amazing still was the chance to catch up with old teachers. There was my English teacher Mr Campbell, who convinced me that I could write critically if only I stayed attentive to my feelings and honoured them honestly. Mr Hannaford, who somehow managed to keep smiling as I struggled to understand logarithms. PE teacher Mr Wickes, who turned my enthusiastic amateurism into a loyal commitment towards my classmates. Historian Mr Pearce, who gently encouraged us find links and parallels between the past, present and future and finally Miss Lloyd-Jones, whose Philosophy lessons unfolded hundreds of possibilities for looking at the world. She also had a wonderful way of overlooking bad behaviour.

It makes me aware of how subtle great teachers are. What gifts they give - sowing ideas and promoting attitudes that blossom ten, twenty, thirty years later. For all the merry making, there was a sense that our was a golden time of privilege and light. Our world is in retreat now and a more cautious age of accountability has appeared on the horizon. The School may close, but nobody can take away the knowledge that we really were very lucky to have been a part of it all.

Back in London I found a short passage from C.S Lewis' The Four Loves on friendship.

Those are the golden sessions... when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life - natural life - has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?


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