8 March 2008

Back together again

I was quite thin on this photo! It was taken in 2004, at a school reunion of the 'Class of 84' from Hedon's two primary schools. From left to right - Diane Rudd (no relation), me, Sarah Pocklington, Fay Cooper, Hayley Connor, Vincent Shepherd and Joanne Simpson.

I think it was Five-Centres who recently expressed horror at the thought of attending a school reunion. Well, I organised ours and I don't have any regrets at all - as far as I could tell, it was a roaring success.

I did get a bit heavily into it. The Natural Blonde says I'm sometimes too focussed on something for my own good and as a result, everything else in life becomes a little sidetracked. I see her point. But it was a big job - Hedon is a small town (or it was in 1977-78, when this group of people started school - indeed, it was still regarded as a village or borough back then) but it was expanding all the time and once we headed for the big comprehensive in the village next to us (Preston, if you have a map), it had grown substantially - so substantially that it had been afforded town status and, more pertinently for the growing child, a second primary school had needed to be built.

And this was the bit of our early educational life which I suspect is fairly rare. Our year was everyone in Hedon born from September 1972 to August 1973. As a May boy, I was in the youngest third and started in the reception class at Easter. Three people who lived on my cul-de-sac had been at school six months by then. We all learned and played and fought together for another full year and broke off for the summer holidays in 1979.

When I went back in the September, half my year, including boys I was friendly with and who had attended my sixth birthday party, had disappeared. One or two I would literally not see again until we were 11 and all headed for South Holderness. The new school had opened.

Hedon Primary School is on the west side of the village and was, for a generation, big enough and staffed well enough to take every single child in the village. I don't know when exactly it opened, (Friends Reunited have incorporated pupils from the pre-war primary school which my dad attended, so that's a red herring - that building later became a special needs school and then an adult education centre). By the 1970s, however, a huge new housing estate was being built in the east of the village and more and more newlywed couples were buying marital homes there and raising their families in these new surroundings.

The school got overstretched, and in 1977 it was decided that an additional one would be built within the new housing estate. There were no obligations to go there, but the large majority of parents on the new estate decided that their kids should go to the new school when it opened.

It opened, to infants only, in September 1979, and my year was the eldest to be given the opportunity as a result. It meant that Gaynor Mackman's name would be enshrined in Hedon history forever as the eldest pupil ever to attend the school, a fact I'm sure she's chuffed about...

As a boy on the west side, I stayed where I was. But roughly half of the six year olds I'd known in July 1979 were nowhere to be seen in the infant three classrooms at Hedon Primary two months later.

I remember asking my mum where they'd all gone and she explained. Then I told her about Paul Kelly. Confusingly, we had two Paul Kellys in my year. One of them had gone to the new school and one had not - yet the one who had not lived in a smart bungalow on the very estate where the new school had been built. All he had to do was fall out of bed and he was there. But, in a move which did his mum credit (and his mum was ace), she gave him the choice when he handed the letter from Hedon Primary over to her. He asked to stay where he was (he told me at the reunion it was because he wanted to get in the school football team) and his mum agreed. So, Paul would leave his bungalow each morning and see every other schoolkid of his age and below walking in the opposite direction to him. That must have been surreal.

Another issue parents faced when making the choice for their kids regarding the new school was that it wasn't for juniors. The intake was gradual, and just three lots of infant years were admitted, which would grow over the next four years into a full quota of infant and junior pupils. Therefore the kids from the area who were born before September 1972 had to continue going to Hedon Primary and making that much longer walk. Some parents kept the younger ones at the old school as a result; having two kids a year apart but at two different schools would have been harder work. Some, however, split the kids up and sent the younger ones to the new school.

You see, selection did exist back in the 1970s... just not quite in the same way.

Three blokes from Hull set up a lads' football team in Hedon in 1983 and therefore I got to see a lot of the old faces again after a few years as we all joined the team. The rest then came back into our lives at South Holderness a year later; in effect, that was our first reunion. Some had remained in touch because of the big brother/big sister scenario, but by the time we were 16 and left school everyone knew (or knew of) everyone else again, even though South Holderness, as one of the biggest comprehensives in the country, had approximately 700 kids per year from ten feeder primaries and a lot of small villages.

So, in 2004, we had a reunion. I'd considered organising one for a bit, as a confirmed nostalgist and someone who is fiercely protective and supportive of Hedon as a great place to grow up. I had bumped into one of the old faces, David Feetham, at his printing place in Hull's main shopping centre and we mooted the idea over a catch-up coffee in the cafe next door.

My next task was to visit Vincent, the other chap on the photo above. Vinny has never left Hedon and is one of the most recognisable and popular figures around the town. We were thick as thieves as kids, and he knew absolutely everybody and, as crucially, remembered where everybody lived when we were growing up. So, we got a map of Hedon and went through the roads and estates ("On Westlands there was Helen Cawthorne, Alan Goucher, Tracy Hall, erm, Ian Low, Stella McKee..."; "who was on Roslyn Crescent? Ian Brown, Debbie Gale, Sara Lucas, Paul Saunders, Mark Thompson...") so that ultimately we had (or hoped we had) recalled everyone who had left the two primary schools for South Holderness in 1984.

Then out came the journalist in me. Finding most of them was easy; even if they'd moved far away, the likelihood was that their parents were still in the family home in Hedon so I just picked up the phone book. Most were really helpful and passed on numbers or messages. Some were suspicious and asked quiz questions ("Who was your deputy headmaster?" "Mr Ledgard." "Ok, here's his number...!") but assisted nonetheless.

There were trickier ones to get. One family, the Kendalls, had left Hedon in 1985, a year after we'd gone to South Holderness. Therefore their daughter, Jayne, was someone we wanted at the reunion but had no idea where she or anyone else was. She was on Friends Reunited (the next obvious port of call) but didn't reply to the polite email I sent her. Then someone mentioned that her dad had been a Hedon pupil in his own schooldays, so I went back to the website and found him on the list. I emailed him, he immediately passed it on and within a day or two Jayne emailed me, full of apologies about her email address changing since the day she had registered with Friends Reunited. She came to the reunion and had fun. Result!

If they had left the area *and* not registered on Friends Reunited, then the next step was to look for siblings on there and email them instead. This I did to find Ingrid Richards, thanks to an email to her big sister Kirsten. Again, she passed the details on and Ingrid got in touch.

Vinny and I counted up 105 people who we needed to invite. There were 106 when we were at school, but sadly we lost one lad in 1996, not unexpectedly, as he had been a cystic fibrosis sufferer and we often only saw him for two out of three terms per year due to his illness. He is buried in Hedon's cemetery. As if to make sure his memory was present at the event, Dave designed and printed out a large card at his shop ("On our day of celebration, we remember a departed friend with fondness") and everybody who arrived at the reunion signed it. I then took it to his parents' house, and they seemed very touched.

There were some who I found who were nonetheless never going to come. Mark Blakey emailed me from Australia, expressing his disappointment that he couldn't attend. Daniel Farey wished me luck with my search as he travelled around Thailand. Christopher North was my most impressive find - his family had long left Hedon, and all I remembered about him was that he was an ornithologist as a kid, with a particular fascination for owls. So I put "Christopher North owls" into Google and found him running a bird sanctuary in Arizona. Needless to say he couldn't attend, but was astonished that I had remembered him and found him. The furthest that people travelled for the do were from places like Oxfordshire, London and the Isle of Man.

We sorted out invitations and sent them to 103 people in the end, including those abroad (just so they could at least have the invitation as a memento). Everyone who was invited was listed on the back of the invitation alphabetically, like a school register, so that people could see in advance who they were likely to bump into at the event, and remind themselves of everyone they had forgotten about.

The two we were missing were just totally uncontactable - one was in the forces; the other was only up the road in Hornsea but simply wouldn't reply to messages. That was her prerogative, though she missed a cracking do. Eventually, 61 of us (most of the rest were on holiday or those living abroad, more emailed me afterwards to say they bottled it!) gathered from 3pm on August 7th 2004 in the function room at the Haven Arms in Hedon. For the next eight hours we drank, ate, took photographs, swapped stories, caught up and just had A Complete Ball. This, as far as I'm concerned, is what school reunions should be like. We had our scraps and fights and tantrums at school, but on August 7th 2004 we were all 31 years of age (except for Joanne Simpson, Jonathan Wilson and Simon Turner, the youngest three in our year...) and had grown up. Anyone concerned about whether an argument which raged at the age of nine should still be felt when you meet again at 31 shouldn't worry.

Here are the Hedon Primary lot, including me...

And the Hedon Inmans Primary lot, the deserters of 1979, are pictured here...

Next year is the 25th anniversary. Shall I?


Jon Peake said...

Was it me who was horrified?

I'd be intrigued, and I'd probably go, but I'd be bloody nervous about it. I've not seen these people for more than 25 years!

Do it again, go on.

Clair said...

I never want to see anyone I was at school with ever again. I only have a few friends from college - so I am clearly a shallow tosser.

Matthew Rudd said...

F-C,I think you were replying to someone else's blog entry about being invited to a school reunion and being unsure as to whether to go. It might not have been you.

My school reunion was ace. Clair, you're way too cynical.

Bright Ambassador said...

Yeah, that was me. I said something like I'd rather listen to the entire Robbie Williams catalogue for 72 hours non-stop rather than go to a school reunion on a post about Friends Reunited.
I think FC gave pretty much the same reply he's given here.

Matthew Rudd said...

My error - apologies F-C. However, BA, you should reconsider.

Bright Ambassador said...

Nah, it'll be wall-to-wall twats.