From my window I see that a heavy mist has enveloped New England. Spectral trees hover in a liquid stillness dissolving so gently into fantasy that if I crane my neck and crane my imagination, I feel I can almost touch cathedral spires. It could be old England, looking towards Wells or Salisbury or Ely, I hope, but it isn’t, because it’s early autumn and the leaves have not begun to turn.
Yet, even in New England, an unseasonal mist is nature’s way of reminding us that change is on the way, and that we had better begin thinking of winter and minus-eight degree mornings and red noses and aching fingers and stamping feet and dogs’ frozen water bowls.
When you imagine the coming winter, people tend to think of many things, some of them indulgent like hot chocolate with chunky marshmallow floating on the surface or strutting along the mall in your latest Paris-on-Dumaresq winter gear. I think of football on television and hot dogs and mustard. And the reunion season.
What is it about winter that stirs so many people — old-school-tie types, rugby players, Red Cross fundraisers, old ‘Tiv’ hoofers, etc. — to think about getting together with all the old warhorses with whom they fought the battles of the long-gone past (though much bigger in the mind now than they ever were then). I think it might have something to do with the cosiness of the season, the jollity of sharing the human warmth within while fending off arctic blizzards without.
On April Fool’s I don my own reunion cap and send out the email reminders for our small gathering in the middle of July. It is not a very onerous task, fortunately, as it was not one I ever sought, but, hey, someone has to do it.
Actually, one of our number christened it an anti-reunion, because at its core are those who never fitted in to the oppressive rah-rah spirit that seemed to permeate our school on Sydney’s North Shore. We were the ones who, when screamed at by blazered jocks to “Show some bloody school spirit!”, despite having been conscripted to watch the First XV play, and trash, some poor misbegottens, could be relied upon to respond with a galley-slave-like moan of “Pass the bottle of school spirit”. Childish, I agree, but possible bellwethers for the lives of eccentricity or rebellion or weirdness or individuality that followed. Most of us fell into this anti-reunion caper quite by accident, having attended earlier ‘official’ reunions, particularly that of 2001, which put much of our tolerance to the test.
It is relevant, at this point, to recall one of the ground-breaking pieces of windmill-tilting of the early-’60s, Richard Walsh’s Oz magazine. In one of the earliest issues was an article about PC — not political correctness as understood today, but ‘polite conversation’, or the ability to negotiate the shark-pools of social events without having a leg severed by rows of razor teeth.
According to Oz, the three topics to be avoided at all cost in such settings were sex, religion and politics, for obvious reasons. However, the writer went on to warn the unwary to be vigilant for traps, and gave this as a telling example: That an apparently safe question like “Do you enjoy surfing?” might invite a swingeing response, “Have you been saved?”
Just the other morning, I was listening to some talking head on ABC1 opining that there were four — repeat four — topics to be avoided in polite conversation, having now added ‘money’ to the three that were de rigueur in the 1960s. How times have changed.
Which brings me back to reunions. For, whether it is 1963 or 2019, two topics have definitely never been excluded from the catechism of polite conversation. They are ‘boasting’ and ‘putdowns’. For, to some of us on the fringe of the rah-rah spirit, the atmosphere at our reunion venue in 2001, packed to the rafters with 170-plus baldies, beardies, fatties and scarecrows, was awash with raw testosterone.
For example, at my own table, my matter-of-fact answer to a question from someone I have known since early childhood as to “What have you been doing?”, evoked his drawling riposte, “Oh, another disappointment, eh”. No wonder the company of ‘Yak’, our economics and geography teacher sitting on the other side of me, seemed so appealing.
It was small comfort to learn that the attendance at the 2011 reunion — the golden jubilee of our class (now there’s a dead giveaway!) — slumped to about 110, and the organisers can’t blame that on the actuaries, because we were off. Yet it took the unexpected death in 2014 of one of our number, a lad-about-town only in his 60s, that eventually galvanised us into action.
Every year since then, an eclectic group of somebodies and nobodies, wannabes and never-wanted-to-be-anythings, get together at a well-known Sydney pub to drink, eat, defy mortality, and just talk — but talk about what, I haven’t a clue, because we’re so damn polite we don’t keep tabs on each other.