Let me take you back to your childhood.....
So this time last year I went back to Stockport to meet school friends I hadn't seen in forty years. This year we repeated the procedure, though this time round we dispensed with the formal reunion dinner and the penguin suits and cut straight to the imbibing of copious quantities of alcohol, accompanied by a perfectly acceptable roast-beef-and-Yorkshire-pudding dinner. There were more of us there this time, which meant several additional people for me to peer at and try (not always successfully) to identify. (Forty-one years brings a few changes, at least it does for most of us.) Some of the new arrivals had been particular friends of mine at school so it was good to see them and catch up.
We're an oddly assorted lot, the Stockport Grammar School class of '73. I suppose it's what you expect when you went to a minor (but very old) public school (though in my day a lot of the pupils, including me, had their fees paid by the state under the wonderfully egalitarian - and now defunct - Direct Grant Scheme). A sports teacher who used to play lacrosse for England; a plastic surgeon; a GP; a dentist specialising in patients with learning difficulties or phobias; a senior pharmaceutical company executive working in Philadelphia; the librarian of St Anne's College, Oxford: assorted company directors; assorted accountants; and the current bursar of Stockport Grammar School.
So here I am flanked by the librarian of St Anne's College and the plastic surgeon. I remember someone even more drunk than me informing me that Dave (the librarian) and I were the year's "intellectual elite", which we both found highly amusing the next day.
And here I am deep in conversation with the pharmaceutical executive.
The venue was the Stanneylands Hotel near Manchester Airport. I think we'll be going back there: the food was OK, the facilities great, and the rooms for those of us staying were perfectly comfortable.
The next morning, after my full English breakfast and various farewells, I decided to dive even deeper into my past to a place I hadn't visited since we moved away (to Stockport) on August 16th 1965. This was Droylsden, an inner-city suburb of Manchester where I spent the first ten years of my childhood. Wandering around gave me a strange feeling, both when I saw something that hadn't changed and when I saw something that had. My old primary school, for example, was still essentially the same building, though one of the playgrounds was now a car park, and the old outside toilets had bee converted into something else. Several of the neighbourhood churches (St Cross on the way out of Manchester, and St Willibrord's Catholic church) were pretty much unchanged, though my own old haunt of St Andrew's had been demolished a few years ago and its congregation transferred into a sharing arrangement with the local United Reformed Church. (Incidentally, this is the font in which I was baptised.) This picture was taken when I was seven years old: I think I recognise the girl in the foreground form my school class, but I could be wrong.
The house I used to live in seems to have undergone only cosmetic changes. The wall and gateposts are still as I remember them (though we used to have a wooden gate), and while there is now a carport on the drive, the original garage is still there (it's had a few coats of paint since my time).