I’ve never been one who has particularly fond memories of school. Admittedly, I’ve no particularly bad memories either. Just kind of dull and neutral ones. But when I saw that an open day had been arranged to give anyone who’d attended Bedwell Secondary School the chance to have one last look around before the original buildings are all knocked down in September, I found myself keen to get along.
As most things seem to be these days, it was largely publicised via Facebook, and the page set up for the event became a popular destination for former pupils of all ages to share memories of school and arrange to meet up with former classmates on the day. But I didn’t really make friends at school so it wasn’t seeing people again that made me want to go along. (I’m not much better at making them now, to be honest.) It was just straight forward nostalgia, and the chance to show my family a little of what my school life was like. In fact, if I’m completely honest, the thought of bumping to old classmates was just a bit scary for me. I can be rubbish with names and even faces, and the thought of people coming up to me with a cheery “Hi Trevor” and me not having a clue who they were was a very real possibility and an embarrassing thought.
Sure enough, before I even got in through the front door, someone approached me with eyes wide with recognition. “Here we go”, I thought. But it wasn’t really me she recognised. Well, not me specifically: “You’re a Coultart. Which one?” You see, I was the last of four Coultart brothers to go through the school. She was a few years older than me and knew my brothers, not me. (Phew! Got away with that one.)
Once inside I spent a pleasant hour wandering those old corridors, nipping in and out of classrooms, and telling my family little snippets of what I could remember. And it was lovely.
I especially wanted to take a look at a few things. My form room – the music room – was locked. But it was also locked in time. Apart from a few more modern instruments (we didn’t have drums and amps in my day) it looked absolutely identical. Same chairs. Same tables. Same layout. Seemingly unchanged in 27 years. I guess some things were build to last. The adjoining drama studio was still very much the same. Its distinctive red spiral staircase bringing back great memories. Drama was one of my favourite subjects in my first three years but I was talked out of taking it up as an exam subject. That’s a matter for a whole other post. (I was also talked out of taking Technical Drawing, which I loved and was brilliant at. Yes, definitely a matter for another post.)
I was keen to visit the Art rooms, but these seemed to have changed and weren’t as I’d remembered them. There used to be a dedicated sixth form Art “studio” that had glass walls and, I seem to recall, sofas, which had gone. Just simple art rooms now with no real resonance to me.
The cookery rooms had moved, and I felt quite disoriented exploring some of the admin areas. There used to be a long corridor along to the staff room, with an open balcony all along one side overlooking the dining room, but that whole area had been completely changed, with rooms now over the dining room and other changes meaning I couldn’t quite work out where I was at times.
But here’s what surprised me. It was when I looked in the woodwork room that I actually felt quite emotional. Yes, the woodwork room. Not my best subject, by any means. Nor my favourite. But there was just something about that room. Those big wooden benches; those very same tools that my hands used to fashion long since lost knick-knacks. I found myself saying to my wife “Isn’t that beautiful”. And then wondering why I’d said that. I guess it was a realisation that I did, after all, have some great times at school. Why didn’t I realise that at the time? Why do my school reports start so well – before fading into “must try harder” territory? Again, maybe a topic for another post.
The same “You’re a Coultart” scenario was played out a couple more times, but I didn’t have the embarrassment of having to pretend I knew who anyone was (or admit that I didn’t!). In fact, the only people I saw who I knew well were people who I’d met years after leaving, in entirely different environments, and who I had no idea were former Bedwell pupils.
The whole visit set me off on a little school nostalgia session, and I’ve found myself fishing out all my old school reports, and ploughing through photos to see if I had any of those days. Surprisingly, I didn’t. Not a single one of me at school, with classmates, on school trips, or even a single one with me in my uniform. (So thanks to my Mum for fishing out one she had so I could use it above. Love you, Mum. x)
I’m very glad I made the effort to go along, and very grateful for those who took the time and energy to set this opportunity up.
Anyway, that’s enough of my meanderings. If you’re reading this years after leaving school, and have the chance to go back for a visit, I’d say don’t miss it. And if you’re reading this and are still at school, I’d say don’t let it pass you by.
Oh, and make some friends.
I managed to go round the whole school without taking any photos myself, so thanks to this who’ve let me use theirs. Photo credits below.
- School exterior: Stevenage Museum
- My School Photo: Mum
- Music Room and woodwork room: Damon Francis
- Drama Studio: Ronald Parker.
I did go on to write about my one regret about about school days; it relates to subject choices. You can read it here.