A Virtual OF 40th Anniversary Reunion
Landmark school-leaving anniversaries are never easy to contemplate - especially when a) you’re sober and b) the decades are accumulating and starting to express themselves as fractions of centuries. The prospect of attending a school reunion becomes increasingly scary and downright inconceivable. But for those of us in the OF class of 1980, who remember leaving Frensham 40 years ago (or more) this summer, the idea of a landmark reunion with long-lost friends from around our COVID-stricken planet somehow seemed more poignant and appealing – and even a little less scary – than it might have done on earlier anniversaries.
First, it was virtual. Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past eight months, you can’t have avoided becoming a professional or social Zoomer, even if you were dragged into it kicking and screaming. Some of us practically live on Zoom. So for our OF reunion we were all thankfully in our comfort zones – geographically and technologically – and we didn’t have the long trek to Frensham threatening to raise our pulses and moisten our brows. Thirteen of us – from six different countries in five time zones, ranging from California to east-coast Australia – gathered virtually last Sunday, at the crack of dawn for Pindi and shortly before midnight for Jo, who joined us from down under. I hosted the call from Oxford, UK, where I’m visiting from NYC and coming to the end of my obligatory quarantine. Apart from an embarrassing and inexplicable technological failure that prevented me from hearing anyone else on the call (thank you, Mona, for coming to the rescue on Messenger!), the virtual gathering went pretty smoothly in a logistical sense.
In its larger sense, our virtual reunion was quite simply a breath – or more like a heavy gust – of wonderful welcome bracing fresh air, blowing into our living rooms that have imprisoned us during these long months of lockdown, and bringing with it a lovely helping of human warmth and connection that we’ve all been craving. I’m sure my fellow Sunday Zoomers will agree that seeing our achingly familiar faces, all etched poignantly with lines of wisdom and experience gained over the intervening years, was moving and uplifting. Catching up on everyone’s extraordinary lives since we left the bosom of FH (‘cos all OFs lead extraordinary lives, almost by definition), as well as hearing about everyone’s unique experience of this recent universal shit-show, was the best kind of tonic. And although we’ve all gone our separate ways since leaving Frensham in 1980 – keeping in touch with our classmates in various groups and to varying degrees, online and off – there seemed to be an immediate and quite profound sense of camaraderie and belonging among our gathered group, since we were all so affected and formed by our years at Frensham and with each other. We indulged in some good old reminiscing: soon enough we were back getting caught in tents with cider in the middle of the night in the middle of a hockey pitch, visiting a certain sick-bay nurse with a vodka habit, running away (literally) from scary netball tournaments, reliving hilariously chaotic lessons led by chaotic teachers, and remembering warmly a few of our late beloved classmates (including, most notably, the brilliant, funny, bravely idiosyncratic, acutely intuitive and endlessly entertaining Mark Baddeley, who published our iconic “alternative” yearbook).
I think that against the backdrop of the pandemic and all the physical and emotional restrictions it’s wrought on all of us, this virtual reunion came as something of a really pleasant surprise; as it turns out, school reunions don’t always have to be terrifying. And this one brought a real and welcome sense of renewed friendship and community, which I hope will continue long after the pandemic (and Donald Trump) have faded from our memories.OFs at the Class of ’80 reunion
: Amandla Smith (Mandy Kitson at Frensham), Bini Slingsby (Stevens), Coleen (Jo) Wood, Fleur Hitchcock, Jane Morton (Ashton), Jane Solley (Shanahan), John Barrow, Lenore Lewis, Louise Barder, Mina Cullimore, Mona Tell, Pasha Du Valentine (Sarnia de la Mare), and Pindi Munoz (Badenhop)By Louise Barder, OF 1973-80
(Zoom screenshot courtesy of Coleen Wood)
If you’d like to get in touch with your fellow OFs and you’re not on the OF directory, please contact Emma, Director of External Relations at EmmaJudge@frensham.org
And if you’re interested in joining the active “OFs from the ‘70s and ‘80s” Facebook group
, please send a request to join the group, making sure to list the dates you were at Frensham and your surname while there (if different from your current name). ***
* Hat-tip to Jonathan Hughes for suggesting the idea