When you haven’t seen someone since school, you should think twice before meeting up again
Reunions: they’re a thing of the past. When you pay to see a re-formed band you pay to hear the old hits. If they’ve written a fab new song about climate change, they should keep it to themselves.
A reunion awaits me, as I write, in my inbox. “I wonder if you still remember me,” begins the man from long ago. I still remember him all right. In fact, I still remember him every day, when I still see his email, still there, awaiting my response. He sent it in June. If I leave it in my inbox any longer, what will happen? Will it fade? Smell?
The email, which is gracious and formal, tells me what he’s been up to: “I spent 12 years at University College London, where I completed a BSc in physiology, then a PhD in the same before drifting into dentistry.” His wife “started her academic studies as I did in physiology. She reached the law after a number of years in …” – no, I can’t go on. Why don’t I just answer? Why don’t I suggest we have a drink? It won’t be so bad. I can ask him about his drift into dentistry. At what point did he stop being a drifter and start being a dentist? Did he, one sunrise in San Antonio, hitch a ride on the back of a cattle truck? Did he watch the Texas Longhorns’ chomping jaws with mounting fascination? Did he have a dental epiphany, realising it was time to trade his mouth organ for a drill?
We haven’t seen each other since we left school and we’re now in our 50s. There’s a reason you don’t see someone for 39 years. In our case, the reason is we were never friends. This is how it would go: I’d spot him across the pub, sitting alone, features intact, hair receded. I’d approach him nervously, shake his hand and offer to buy him a drink. Then I’d ask him how he drifted into dentistry. Puzzled, he’d tell me he wasn’t a dentist and, nor, before I got ahead of myself, was he gay. He was merely a man I had never met who enjoyed a free drink. This is the nightmare of Acquaintances Reunited.
Now let’s turn to the Tintin man, with whom I actually reunited. (He runs the company that controls the rights to all Tintin merchandise.) We were also at school together but we were proper friends, who carried on seeing each other till geography drove us apart. Recently, after a 25-year gap, we finally reformed. The evening was brilliant. For two hours, in an Italian restaurant, nostalgia was pure adrenaline, pumping us full of verbal energy and filling our heads with images of people and places. We covered everyone and everything we ever had in common. Look, there’s Alastair Dobbin! Wow, you just scored a brilliant goal! Oh my god, we’re listening Box Scaggs So why haven’t we seen each other again? Simple. We have nothing in common but the distant past, which we’ve exhaustively trawled. Oh, and our recent reunion. If we had a second reunion, we’d be forced to wax nostalgic about the first. “Hey, how about that Italian restaurant?” he’d gush. “The pasta was sublime,” I’d concur, wistfully. “Did you have the tiramisu?” he’d ask. “Oh, the tiramisu,” I’d reply, tears rolling down my cheeks. “Never again will we find such a harmony of misu and tira. Those were the days.”
Finally, we turn to the barrister. That’s the most unusual reunion, since we’ve never been apart. We were students together, in the early 1970s, who haven’t lost touch. Nevertheless, the last time I saw him, the barrister made a declaration worthy of Doctor Who: he told me he was at his happiest between 1972 and 1975 and he’d like to go back there. He wants to take me with him, so he has someone to talk to, someone who appreciates him and understands the references. (Basically, I’m Doctor Who’s assistant.)
The reunion is not with me, you see. It’s with himself. It’s the same sci-fi mission that propels you to buy your Spandau Ballet ticket: you want to boldly go back to the past and reunite with the you who bought True. Don’t do it. It’s mission impossible. Drift into the future.