Back to school - older but not wiser

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There are certain things in this world which make me feel old. Having two children, a mortgage and a responsible day job are some of those things.

Not knowing any of the songs in the charts is another. Shunning BBC Radio One in favour of the news, analysis and older music played on Today FM is another (Love me a bit of Ray Darcy and any programme which does not insult my ears with Drum’n’bass tunes).

The fact that when I get a bit of extra money my immediate thought is no longer “whoop whoop, big night out, cheers to the freakin’ weekend” or any such thing but instead “that’ll get the wains some new shoes” is yet another.

But perhaps the biggest one of all is walking around the hallowed halls of your old school with your 11 year old niece on open night and realising it has been a quarter of a century since you were a first year yourself.

In the two hours I accompanied her around Thornhill College on Tuesday evening I realised I have become an OEA (Old Embarrassing Auntie).

I tried to put a lid on it - I really did. I tried to be the coolest auntie in the world (my niece and son have informed me however that COOL now stands for “Constipated Overrated Outdated Loser”) but almost as soon as I walked in the door my cool fell through the floor and I might as well have been that nervous first year on my first day at “big” school in 1987.

Even though it is now a different building (one much newer and swisher without the constant smell of rain sodden gabardine) there was something about walking through the door which made me feel like a nervous pre-teen starting out for the first time. Although am now very much a grown up (and old, as has been said) I still found myself reduced to looking at the teachers (even those clearly younger than me) with a sense of respect. I was about two steps away from walking in single file on the right-hand side and bursting into a chorus of the school song.

It shocked me how quickly the memories of my own school days came flooding back. The scratchy grey songs, the awful haircuts, the walking from one end of the school to the other in the pouring rain between lessons and the fear that some of the teachers instilled in me before I even crossed their classroom doors. Similarly I thought of those teachers who inspired me - not many of whom are still on the teaching staff of Thornhill.

My niece may have thought she was going to the school to get a look at the state of the art facilities on offer but instead she got treated to a two hour session of “It wasn’t like this when I was school... let me tell you what it was like...”

We started in the English room - where I thought of all the teachers who had inspired me into my career in journalism and my creative writing career. I was lost in a haze of reminiscence as my niece - who was keen to get on with the business of watching something get dissected in the Biology labs - chewed on a finger nail and feigned interested.

Then it was languages, where we treated to displays of the girls singing, dancing, acting out role plays and actually enjoying the process of learning a foreign language. “There was no singing and dancing in my day,” I recalled with a shudder trying not to think of the fear which used to flood my body before my language lessons.

It was then on to Religion where displays showed that RE these is about much more than the Holy Catholic church and that ethics and world religions are brought very much into the frame. Again I tried to explain to my niece how this all differed from my day but her heart was still on the dissecting in the Biology labs. As we walked through the corridors I tried to tell her stories of my days at school - of the friends I’m made, the lessons we studied, the trouble we had (very occasionally) got into and a bit of history about some of the more shall we say colourful teachers of days gone by.

It probably wasn’t fair of me, given that the night was not about me at all but still you can’t take someone on a trip down memory lane without expecting them to actually walk down memory lane.

I asked all the boring auntie questions. I talked to staff past and present about when I was a wee girl at Thornhill and the kind of things I liked or didn’t like. I made silly jokes which my niece cringed at and when the school’s string quartet started to play “Don’t Stop Believing” - I made to start singing along which I swear nearly had me de-auntied there and then.

I’m not sure if I was trying to reclaim my youth by acting the nervous pupil, or if I was trying to impress the teachers I did see by showing that I could remember my days at Thornhill so well and that I remembered what they taught me. Maybe I was just acting the part of the old embarrassing auntie. And I’m not sure if my niece will ever forgive me - but for a few hours at least being back at school was fun and entertaining and I even missed those Irish lessons a wee bit.