I went to a school reunion last weekend. It was comprised of around 70 people who had left Larne Grammar School in 1969, called together again by Lynne McKee (nee Dunkley) and Roy Craig. I was expecting it to be a depressing experience, an almost unbearable reminder of my own mortality, and a competitive comparison of our achievements since those pre-Troubles days. It turned out to be strangely comforting and life-affirming. We greeted each other warmly and relaxed as friends who knew each other well and had nothing to prove to one another. It really was good.
It was great to see Muriel Clements who was my next door neighbour in Kent Avenue and whom I have known all my life. I hadn’t seen her in over 30 years. Like many others, she has been away and is now back in “the province” once more. So is Norman Apsley and Helen McArthur. Is it significant that some of us went away but returned again?
But some have stayed away. Raymond Lilley is in Devon, Peter Close is in Newcastle, Jennifer Walker is in Hertfordshire, Tommy Morrow is in Staffordshire, and Lawrie “Haggis” Reid is in his native Scotland. When Haggis comes back from time to time, he stays with his school mate, Stanley McGreal, who was a regular on the Larne-Whitehead train with Peter Pitcaithley all those years ago. Jean McCullough came all the way back from Australia for the event.
Larne Grammar School was a small school in the 1960s (an enrolment of around 500) and it is interesting how successful many of our class have become. Some of our classmates have done exceptionally well and achieved great honours. But as we chatted it seemed like all that was irrelevant and that the intervening years had evaporated and we were back “at home” with one another.
Norman Apsley, our Head Boy in 1968-69, reminded us of how naive we were back then, and relatively uninformed about what was happening in our area. None of us knew who the Thompson and Houston were of the British Thompson Houston Company, whose factory I watched being built from my bedroom window. We didn’t know that the AEI company were making the biggest turbines in the world not far from us as we trudged up the Grammar Brae in the 1960s. And we seemed totally unaware of the early human settlements in our locality. Norman (and maybe he should know) predicted that there might even be a significant future for the town of Larne.
The predictable question did occur to me as I left: Where have the years gone? Those pre-Troubles days were not that bad, even though we didn’t think so at the time.