Memory in the Bone

Outside, the sun is shining. The only clouds are over on the horizon and the grass on the field is a brilliant shade of green. It’s chilly, but well, it’s December, what do you expect?

We’ve been in Leeds for a little over two months now. The house has been pulled together and we’re starting to develop lives up here. For me this return to my roots is wonderful, but often strange. Not hallucinogenic, but certainly weird.

Last Saturday took us to a pair of Christmas fairs. Normally I’d give those things a very wide berth, but both places had associations for me…

Going to your old school is never going to be an easy thing, even if you were fairly happy there. It’s impossible not to sound like a throwback: “When I was here that used to be…” “I remember there were old buildings there. Gone now…”. A visit like that turns you into an instant relic But a little over 40 years have passed since I left Roundhay School. At that time it was boys only, a state grammar school with a shockingly high rate of Oxbridge admissions (and no, I wasn’t among them). The girls’ school was next door. Now…ah, now it’s probably much better in so many ways, freed from the restrains of aching to be a minor public school. The weirdness became complete when I met someone on the school committee who introduced me to the current head teacher and I didn’t quake to be close to that authority.

On the way back to the car, my partner suggested walking across the outfield of the cricket pitch in front of the building. We couldn’t do that in my day, I started to say, then realised the hell with it. What could they do, give me a detention?

The second fair was at St. Matthew’s Church. I hadn’t set foot in there since I was 11. Back then I’d been a pupil at St. Matthew’s Church of England primary school, where pupils were supposed to attend church every Sunday – not that I did. The building that housed my school, an old board school from the 1870s, is long gone, replaced by houses, but I was curious to see the church. The vicarage, built for the arrival of Canon Shields in 1964 (don’t even ask how or why I remember that) still stands. There’s a new primary school where an orchard once was. The fair was in a recent annex, spilling over into the church nave. There was no pang of memory. Too long ago, or had the place really never touched me that much? I’ve no idea.

The moral? I don’t know, perhaps there isn’t one. But the tug of school, the unchanging smell through generations, that sense of being a pupil as soon as you walk through the door. 41 years after the fact and it’s still the same. Like memory in the bone.

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