Spectator literary competition No. 2840
You were excellent this week on the horrors of the reunion dinner. But these gatherings no longer have the allure they once enjoyed. While in days gone by, they offered the opportunity to see, and, more enjoyably, to assess, former classmates in their adult incarnations, in an age of social media no one really loses touch and that element of mystery is all but gone. We’ve seen the pictures and read the status updates.
Albert Black, Rob Stuart and Peter Goulding are all highly commended. The winners take £25 each and the extra fiver belongs to Alan Millard.
‘Good evening, sir, wind down the window
Perhaps you’d like to tell me where you’ve
And so I tell him, starting with Denise
Who’s cock-a-hoop with all she’s done and seen,
And Spears, the prig, a keen, athletic sort
Who, taking me for someone else, I think,
Bombards me with his endless talk of sport
And drives me into starting on the drink
Which doesn’t help. They’re all in pairs you see,
All married, all well-off, all overjoyed
To meet again, all jolly, all but me,
The only one divorced and unemployed.
And so I tell him all he wants to know,
This officer whose face is just a blur,
Before I get the evening’s final blow:
‘Breathe into this, that’s right, keep blowing, sir!’
The bellowed bonhomie and hearty roar
Of inauthentic laughter warn too late:
I’m nobbled by a quite notorious bore
With crimson jowls and highly polished pate,
His dinner jacket, shrinking year on year,
Distended by his unbecoming paunch.
Thus, miserably trapped, I’m doomed to hear
Of business ventures he intends to launch.
Why did I come? I always hate these dos:
The rubber duck, the cheesecake made from
The boastful speeches fuelled by third-rate
All ye who enter here, abandon hope.
A primal sense of duty to one’s school
Inflicts its tortures even decades later.
I raise my glass, obeying every rule,
And grimly toast our dear old alma mater.
Your eldest, so you say, will gain
Her PhD at twenty-three,
And you confide, with drunken pride,
Your son’s been picked for Team GB;
To both of you, behind the mask,
I offer praise, think Do not ask.
You now, your ponytail half-loose,
Play bass with bands, all half your age,
And you’ve a face that all can place
As lion of the screen and stage.
Your annual income? Safe from tax?
Don’t push me for my private facts.
These high-achievers, sinking wine
Were once contemporaries of mine —
At least, beneath them, I’m exempt
From everything but their contempt.
I didn’t mean to come. Still: all those years!
I don’t remember many of the boys
I was at school with anyhow, and some
I didn’t like. I’m sure they feel the same,
And more will not even recall my name.
I rather thought that there would be more noise.
Not many folk. They cannot all have come —
Reunions always were random affairs.
Time for the dinner now, someone just said.
The seating-plan with every attendee
Is pretty short. Lots of us must be dead.
I recognise some faces here today,
But nobody has yet acknowledged me.
They all stare past me, as if I were mist.
I don’t live near. How did I find my way?
Where is my name? It isn’t on that list.
Our lifetimes overlap, I know,
climbing promotion’s ladder, so
we meet each year for old times’ sake.
I think I really ought to go.
Those 9 to 5 routines we shared
when fleeter-footed, better-haired,
will be recycled, yet again;
the same old round, as though we cared.
John’s photocopier jokes, Mick’s tales
of Power point that always fails.
If I don’t go they’ll think I’m dead
or, worse, decamped to live in Wales.
The evening drags, I long for bed,
I can’t remember what was said
on things that we might do instead.
There must be things to do instead.
With paths recrossed at funerals I’d thought
This staged reunion might be worth a try,
So in its sorry aftermath I sought
To see what hadn’t worked and ponder why.
With funerals there is a point at least,
A focus for some communal reflection.
But livening up relationships long ceased
Demanded something more like resurrection.
For since our year too many years had passed;
We scraped to find what memories we shared,
While being, if disguisedly, aghast
At looks and outlooks then and now compared.
Worse still, was feeling keenly that the place
Which once seemed ours had simply moved us
Our alma mater’d turned away her face;
Our time had been but , like all time, had gone.
Inspiration for the next challenge came from the comedian Rob Brydon, who said that he would choose Alan Bennett to ghostwrite his autobiography. You are invited to provide an extract from the autobiography of a modern-day celebrity, ghostwritten by a literary great. Please email entries of up to 150 words to email@example.com by midday on 19 March.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.