Ann Briers 51/365

It is time to phone the darling of the P.E. department, the uncrowned queen of Ibstock ’82, all round sportswoman and general good egg, the sunny Ann Newbold, as was!

Ann has lived in Ibstock all her life so phoning the 01530 code brings on my smile without her even answering. She answers in her 1982 voice, because that’s her voice! It hasn’t changed a note and sends me in a spin. She thinks my voice hasn’t changed at all, but it has, I have the tapes to prove it.

We connected on Facebook relatively recently after she had bumped into a number of our old school friends and they kept telling her that I’d called them. That made her jealous, that made her join facebook and now she is a prolific user.

I’m pleased that I influenced her, even from Australia, because we had a healthy rivalry at school, mainly over the hockey bib CF, centre forward. She wanted it, I wanted it, she had the blue eyes and the soft voice, she had the edge on the game, she got it. I had to settle being RH, right half, Ann’s right hand woman.

She reminds me of the time that she ‘bullied off’ from the centre circle, won the fight, and ran straight for goal, scoring as we mortals in our lesser positions just watched on. It’s all coming back to me now. I wondered if they took the ‘bully off’ out of the game and replaced it with a back pass because of daring centre forwards like her. She reminds me that she got a slight telling off for it, which was probably just a shake of the head from our beloved teacher. I hope Mrs Grew is reading this!

For eighty minutes we catch up on our old teachers, two of whom are still walking along the same stretch of corridor that they were in 1982. We marvel at their achievement and carry on a theme that has run through all my conversations with old school friends; how different our lives might have been, had we stayed at Ibstock High School. Unfortunately, the schools in Leicester have a system that differs from much of the rest of the country. You go to primary, middle and upper school and the middle school is somewhere you have to be dragged away from kicking and screaming because it is almost the perfect environment to succeed in. You get to the upper school with high hopes and low morale and everything can feel a bit cold by comparison.

Middle school was like one big family or one small country, with a deputy head as inspirational as Winston Churchill at the helm. He told us that we could do anything with our lives and we believed it. His assemblies were a battle cry for us to go out into the world and show them what we are made of. His name was Mr Cross.

Here he is! Mr Cross.

Here he is! Mr Cross.

And now, because of Facebook, we go straight back to our postions on the field and in the big family when we communicate with each other.  Ann’s two sisters both married boys they met at that school, each are very memorable to me and when I described how I remember them to Ann, she said I could be describing them now. We stalk their facebook photos together, 12,000 miles apart.

I ask Ann if she got my card as if I’d posted it two days ago and she had. I wrote and sent it in 1990 when she lost her Dad through anaphylaxis. That was the last time we were in touch. We hardly need to talk about what life is like to be without your dad because it’s all so still real to us. And she takes the conversation up to the next gear by telling me that the little blond lad who sat at the back of the class smiling, died of a stroke last week.

And so my museum of the phone call goes on. At the end Ann talks about my writing and I tell her that I am either going to be an abject failure or a resounding success but nothing in between! Oh, but I do have some very successful little friendships bubbling away from the start of my life. I could pick up the phone and ring any one of those cheerful people still running round my mind with their hockey sticks, right this minute.

Ann took this photo. I am on the right, hugging our P.E. teacher Mr Brommel.  See what I mean about family!

Ann took this photo. I am on the right, hugging our P.E. teacher Mr Brommel.


Ruth Burrows 22/365

I ring Ruth on her birthday. We have had it planned for ages. She couldn’t speak earlier because she is doing a degree in business and management studies and today, she says, she no longer has to revise. Suddenly I am back in the classroom, its Maths,1983, we are sitting together and I’m looking out of the window! We didn’t fail Maths, the whole class got put down to study for a lesser exam, the whole class! I deserved to be put down but she didn’t. We didn’t mention this in our chat.

She is concerned that this call is going to cost me a fortune. I don’t care, we haven’t spoken on the phone since we were 14! Her voice hasn’t changed and I know that her looks haven’t either because she came along to a small school reunion we had when I was last in the mother country in 2012.

We go all around the houses in our conversation, we have a lot of news to catch up on. I’m kicking myself now for not talking about what happened to everyone in Maths. One of our classmates was having a baby as we were studying trigonometry and I forgot to marvel with her that the baby would now be 31!

We talked tattoos. She tells me that she went for a fifteen pound tattoo from a guy in his upstairs spare room. She hoped for a rose, but left with a swallow (!)

Years and six hundred pounds later, she had it removed. She tells me to Google her daughter’s tattoo which Ruth is not pleased about. There’s a storm outside and the electricity keeps flicking on and off. I was sitting here a moment ago googling ‘don’t open dead inside’ and now I am completely scared rigid!

For an hour on this, her birthday, we talk about her cats killing moles (cats are mean like that, I say), the dog bites on her legs that I still remember vividly, M&S cocktail pork pies, M&S knickers, the Australian accent being based on both Essex and Suffolk, Literary Speed Dating which I did at the weekend, Castleton in Derbyshire, why we called our children what we did, our classmates, going back to work and her son’s imaginary life that he used to describe aged 3.

As we sign off I tell her that I’ll send her a link to a TV programme about a boy who was born knowing minute details about the life of an American pilot who died in the war. It was thought at first that he had an imaginary life with a vivid imagination but now they believe that he is the reincarnation of the pilot. Now she is freaked out!

It’s just like being at school!

Here we are with our dear departed form teacher Mrs Webster in 1980, Ruth is top left, I’m far right.