Before: nerves, questions, cautious excitement. Will people be relaxed? Will they enjoy it? Is there anything we’ve planned that’s going to flop?
After: delight, relief, instant memories. People were relaxed, positive and in great spirits from beginning to end. Everything we planned seemed to work like a dream. And, just like that, the three days we had spent eleven months planning, passed.
Talking was the main feature of the weekend (eating featured prominently, too) and it was truly wonderful to talk to so many folk, some of whom I hadn’t spoken to since leaving school. Of course, one or two probably won’t remember too much of the night – one guy had the same conversation with me twice! – but I’m sure it was memorable for the vast majority.
It was a real blast from the past to be sitting at a table with those who had been in Bayble School together all those years ago (we left Bayble in 1991). Despite the time that had passed, we got on as if we’d just come back from a school holiday. Two of Knock Academy’s finest kept us laughing right through the meal! And who knew that a fishcake might just contain prawns?!
Saturday afternoon saw the now-traditional Town v Country football match. I was ruled out by the physio shortly before kick-off (much to my own team’s relief) and the guys and girls who played proved one thing – sheer pride and determination can overcome lack of fitness! It was fun to watch, and surprising to see quite how seriously it was taken! Some of the players might have lost the proverbial ‘yard of pace’ over the years, but their vision, touch and timing hasn’t deserted them at all. Sadly, there was one casualty during the match (although keeping it to one was an achievement) but I’m sure there have been thousands of moans and groans and stiff muscles in the last few days! It’s important to note (because bragging rights for the rest of time are involved) that the Country team won. Well done Stoon, Bleech and the boys from across the cattle grids!
We did something a bit different with the Saturday afternoon by taking it to Back. Now, it sticks in the throat of someone from the other side of Broad Bay to praise anything related to Back, but the facilities for the family fun afternoon and the football (in the fantastic Back Bubble, which can be seen from space) were absolutely brilliant. Once again, everyone seemed to have a great time.
For the first time for a Reunion (I think), the Town Hall played host to the Saturday evening, and what a host it proved to be. The building is already impressive, but the touches added by Titchy Pitch (a wee bit of free publicity there) made it even more so. Once again, the food was brilliant, the atmosphere was fantastic and the 80s and 90s music hit the spot. It was great to look around the Town Hall and no matter what song was playing, at least a few people were singing along. The last song of the night was Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ – one of the signature anthems from our time.
Another first came with Fellowship @ Forty on the Sunday night, a chance to meet up again and to hear two lads from our year (Graham MacLeod and Murdo Alex MacRitchie) share their testimonies. It was a brilliant way to finish the weekend and, as someone said very early in the planning process, an appropriate way to finish as we have so much to be thankful for. It was amazing to hear Graham share some extraordinary and raw experiences, and brilliant to have Murdo Alex contributing via video, despite his health issues.
It was interesting to watch people throughout the weekend. In some cases, it felt like being transported back to school: the same pals crowded together chatting or dancing; the odd person seeking out the ‘cool’ guys (a lot harder to find at 40 than at 17!); and the absolute class acts (and there are loads of them from our year) mixing and talking to everyone, regardless of perceived ‘status’ or anything else. They’re the ones who made a real mark that has lasted down through the years, the ones for whom your popularity, ability, looks or anything like that didn’t matter – they’d make time for you regardless.
I’m sure it’s a trick that life plays, but over the years when I’ve looked at photos from the annual Reunion I’ve often thought ‘are they only 40?’ Looking around on our crowd it was more like, ‘how can we be 40?!’ People turned out looking great (some as if they’d just walked out of a higher class) and there was a real sense of pleasure, gratitude and pride in thinking ‘these are my peers, my friends’. Who cares what age we are; we had an opportunity to meet and I’m confident that everyone is glad that they took it. I certainly am.
The weekend also proved that every day’s a school day. I learnt, for example, the key to ensuring that you are always smiling in a photo (not talking when the photo is being taken is vital, apparently; who knew?!) and how to ensure your best side is always on display in a photo (assuming one has a ‘best’ side). On reflection, I suspect these lessons are probably lost on me…
Part of the aim of the Reunion was to raise money for worthy causes, and the kindness we saw blew us away. Businesses and individuals donated a huge amount to provide us with superb raffle prizes; and as a result over £2,000 was raised to support Bethesda and the local RNLI. On top of that, £400 was raised on the Sunday night in aid of Pancreatic Cancer UK, as a token of support for Murdo Alex, who is battling that disease. Phenomenal generosity, yet again, from our wee island community.
I mentioned the committee before, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud to be involved in an organisation than I was with these guys. Carol, Catherine, Anne, Ali, Elaine, Carol, Caroline and Gordon – thanks for a fab year of planning and a year which provided something even better than an amazing weekend, it provided an opportunity to get to know these quality individuals better.
Who knows when (if ever) we’ll have the chance to meet en masse like that again. We’ll meet often as individuals and small groups, I hope; and the memories from a fantastic weekend will, I trust, stay with us for a long, long time to come.
Thanks, guys; it was an incredible experience and an immense privilege.