Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Reunion

I really didn't know if today was going to be a good day or not. Let's face it, I'd had reservations about the reunion from the start. Well, today (tonight) we'd find out if they were unfounded or not.

However, it was going to be a full day before we even arrived at that point. Breakfast on the Deck was the first point of call, just to survey the Kingdom of West Kiama and see what a great day it was.
Helen had (coincidentally) scheduled Maddi's 'get together' for today between 11.00am and 1.00pm. Now, when this was first raised with me, Helen said it was just Maddi having a play date with three of her friends. "It's not a birthday party". No worries, I said. Then I discovered that it also clashed with Jessie's first game of hockey - not a big thing, because I did want to watch her, but I also wanted to be at one of our cricket semi-finals to see the first ball, which started at 11.00am. Jessie's hockey started at 10.20am, and the game lasted 20 minutes. That was going to be a squeeze, but it could be dealt with. Then Helen started cooking lots of 'party' food, and buying things to go in 'party' games. And though she never EVER used the words 'birthday party', before my very eyes, Maddi's play date had become a party. She can be very sly, can my wife, and she certainly snuck this one past me. Pretty much like she does on all occasions. I will be very much ready for the next time she tries to sneak this same explanation past me...
The final thing to break up the plans I had made for myself today was that Jess actually had two games of hockey on, not one. So the anticipated 10.40am finish did not actually occur until 11.30am, which meant that my carefully laid plans from a month ago, with plenty of notice to all involved, again had gone down the gurgler.

No big deal. Jessie's hockey was good to watch. Almost all of the Albion Park kids were at a learners level, and though Jess liked to dance around the edges of where the ball was, she was somewhat stand-offish when it came to getting her stick involved. It wasn't until the very last play of the second game, when the opposition made a break from their own half, with no one between the two of them and the goal. The only girl able to chase? Jessica Peters. She chased hard, and was able to stop the first attacker by getting the ball of him, and then doing the same with the second attacker, halting the attack, and the game ended. That was great to see. The only problem now is that she doesn't play for a month because of school holidays. We'll see how she handles that first game back.

Arrived back at home at 11.30am, heard before I saw the 'party' in full swing, grabbed Garry and jumped back in the car, heading for Shellharbour to see our 2nd Grade side play Shellharbour in their semi-final. Our guys had won the toss and batted, but as per most of the season, the batting didn't fire and couldn't get going. To be rolled for 114 was very disappointing. Garry and I both agreed that if they had managed to get to 150 or 160, it would have been a very defendable score, especially given the Kiama bowling line-up of Hart, Reilly, Hook, Hartley and Hudson.
Our guys needed a good start, and they got it, reducing Shellharbour to 3/17 at tea. At this point Garry and I had to leave for the evening festivities, but we were hopeful of a good result, and not just a little bemused by the Shellharbour beer tent set up on the eastern side of the ground. many Shellharbour players and supporters had set themselves up there, and as they drank more throughout the day were becoming louder and increasingly obnoxious. Banter is fine, but this was becoming downright insulting.

Back to home, to ready ourselves for the evening. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, Joel, Bono, Fran and Amelia showed up. We had a couple of heart starters on the Deck in the fine afternoon sunshine. After some phone calls we were also joined by Anthony and Kearo and Manette. Helen got a photo of us all together, which was good for posterity's sake. We are all a little older, though Joel and Manette are just remarkably unchanged. A nice quote from former alumni Tim Queripel on Facebook perhaps summed it up nicely:
"Well Kearo's been looking after himself. Tone, Gaz and Big Joel doing OK. Bill and Bono look to have been grazing in the top paddock!"

Karen very kindly dropped us in to the Kiama Leagues Club, where we had a half hour downstairs to have a beer - and catch up with the cricket scores. 1sts are boned, losing two late wickets to finish at 5/92 chasing 217 against Lake Illawarra. 2nds are all but gone, Shellharbour being 6/101 chasing 114. There could be an outright result however, so it looks like that's where I'll be again tomorrow.

As it turned out, we didn't get upstairs until 7.30pm such was the conversation downstairs. We walked into a sea of people. It was somewhat amusing. In the upstairs function room, there is a raised area as you walk into the room, where the bar is. You then step down into the auditorium itself, which is full of tables and the such, and the outdoor smokers area is on the opposite side from the bar. All of the people who had arrived, which must have been 50-odd by the time I arrived, were all smashed into the top bar area, and the rest of the establishment was practically empty. So, after about fifteen minutes of say hi to anyone who happened into view, and having grabbed another schooner, I motioned to Bono and Anthony that I was going to make the move down to floor level, and grab the 'punters' tables over on the far side. I suggested that this was to allow everyone who wanted to talk to me could find me. It was more about getting some space and enjoying my beer I think.

So what can I say about the night? It was quite surreal really. It truly is a remarkable fact about the difference between schoolyard and real world. In the schoolyard, you can spend anywhere from six months to 13 years with the same people. You basically grow up together, and learn the principles that become the mantra for your own lives beyond. You don't even know it's happening at the time, it just is.
What is possibly even more amazing is how much people's memories and feelings can change in the years between. there are people who, while you are at school together, would not even give you the time of day, who would hardly know you even exist. Yet suddenly, at a school reunion years later, converse with you like a long lost friend, and want to know all about your life and what you have been doing. Perhaps even stranger, there are people who you were close to when you were at school, who now are trying to keep some distance between you and them.

My reunion experience was all positive. Everyone seemed genuinely excited and happy to see everyone else. I spoke to people I had seen a day beforehand and I spoke to people I hadn't seen in 25+ years. Jason Murrell left at the end of Year 10, and was just the same, and we had a great talk. Rachel Preddey hasn't changed one iota since high school in any way. When she came up to Manette and myself and confessed that in high school she had had a crush on Muz, it cracked us up. The girls in my office at work had insisted I would discover my "secret crush" at the reunion. Well, I didn't (as I insisted to them that one does not exist) but Rach and Jase had. Very very funny.
How many people can you name? I hadn't seen Simon Bowland since his move to Melbourne, nor Mark Curtis in the same instance. I hadn't seen Roger Lienert since about 1988, and we had a great catch up. Mick Taylor I hadn't seen since his one season of cricket with Kiama 4th Grade back in 2000, when he won a premiership in his only season. Bronwyn Gollan and I hadn't spoken for fifteen years, but her first words were to once again remind everyone gathered than I was her first 'boyfriend' (pretty sure we were seven years old) and that I had often been in charge of feeding her Baby Alive doll. Thanks again for that Bron. I hadn't seen Clancy Ford since school, and her first utterance was whether I could remember how rude I had been to her in 6th class when we sat together in Michael Maude's class for four weeks. How differently we all remember certain instances. I was eleven years old at the time and pretty keen on Clancy, but didn't know how to actually articulate that. Obviously, what I tried backfired to the point that I had left Clancy with these kind of memories for 32 years. Wow. Talk about your all-time backfires. How did I ever get married?! Gay Wooltorton, apart from the hair colour, is another who has barely changed - well, maybe she's a little louder now. :)  I hadn't seen Mark Nolan since he had graduated from taking photos at our lowly Kiama cricket games to photographing the NRL and other such events. Yep, still the same too. Julie Murphy and Michelle Elliott, crazy girls that they were, are now sensible women. Who would ever have thought? Laurelle Crowther, another who has not changed at all in looks or personality. Craig Mason still the same guy, casual and at ease with everyone. Who would ever have believed that the "Espo's", Max and Sandro, would have shown up? Not me or Bono, who spoke of the possibility endlessly in the weeks leading up to the event. Ross Harmer, another who has moved to Victoria, is still the same Ross Harmer who I started pre-school with back in 1973. Mark Hedges, the police force still suiting him. Corey Hall and Rod Roberts, Gerringong still suiting them. Deanna Armstrong and I started together in kindergarten in 1975 in Mrs Bala's class. And not to forgot the girls who decided to get this together and organise - Allison Sinclair, Penny Wilson and Kylie Andrews. I could just list everyone, but it would take forever and a day.

There just wasn't enough time, firstly to see everyone who was there, and then to properly talk with everyone to a satisfactory conclusion. It felt as though too many conversations were cut off through new conversations with other people starting, or by going to the bar and getting caught up with other people. In any event, as terrific as it was to see so many people from the past, we just couldn't squeeze them all in over one evening.

They finally kicked us out at about 2.00am (I think. Time had gotten a little fuzzy by then). Bono and I went for kebabs, though Bono confounded everyone by ordering a "kebab with salad, no meat thanks mate". They didn't know what to charge him. Hilarious. Allison had loudly proclaimed outside "Everyone can come back to my house!! Plenty to drink!". She even forced me to memorise her address (yep, still remember it. 53 Barton Drive). No doubt she was glad the next day when no one had taken her up on that offer, as sorely tempted as we were.

Taxi's had been ordered, but the queue was lengthy (about 17 jobs in front of most of us). After another half an hour of talking drunkenly with anyone who would listen, Anthony suggested we go with my suggestion from 5.30pm that afternoon - call Karen to come and get us. now, either his phone was dead or he didn't want to call, so (surprisingly) I sent her a text. Which went "This is Anthony. Please pick us up at Leagues Club. Love Anthony". I'll be honest - I have no recollection as to whether Kaz then called Anthony or not, or called my phone. All I know is half an hour or so later, Karen turned up. And we all piled in. Craig, Anthony and myself in the very back, Laurelle, Scott and Garry in the middle, and Bono in the front. Bono closed the door, while we were all talking to Dale in the back. Though the actual time that had elapsed was different in everyone's memories, I reckon it was between 20 and 30 seconds, before Dale, just as an aside in the conversation, suggested Bono might open his door again, as he had slammed Dale's hand in it and it was stuck. Some were horrified at this. I couldn't stop laughing. Hilarious. Bono was apologetic, Dale cried it off, suggesting it "wasn't too bad". The fact it was swollen and bruised for days afterwards probably suggested otherwise, but I found it very funny at the time. Then we got to Scott's house, where he looked towards the front, and said "Wow! $96.50, that's quite a fare!" It was of course the radio station he was looking at (96.5 Wave FM). Good job Mowbes. Craig had made a big shot at Drunkest Person on South Coast, and had slept all the way home. I was glad I didn't have his head on the next day. Not that I think Laurelle was going to be much help either.

We got in the front door after 3.00am. Garry headed for bed, while Bono and I stayed up for close to another hour, drinking some water and talking about the night. In a way, it was fitting that we were the last two standing. 25 years ago, I don't think either of us would have thought that come 2012 we would have been as close friends as we are. 25 years later, I still consider Bono, Anthony, Kearo and Joel as my closest friends. Surely none of us thought at the time that would be the case. Bono and I converse a lot, could probably solve the world's problems together if we were of such a mind. Finishing the night with him just felt like it was right.