Earlier this week, Friends Reunited announced it would be closing after sixteen years.
This came as little surprise to me having tentatively joined the site as recently as September 2015 (always hopelessly late to the party). It took me until then to pluck up courage to face dæmons – or would they be merely ghosts? – from my (secondary school) past.
What prompted me to join was a massive house clearance following my mother’s death – literally turning over the past – and, melodramatic though this sounds, a sense of my own mortality. No more time for prevarication and procrastination. I should just get on and do it.
A gossamer web
So I joined, immediately contacted five people and never heard a jot back. That could be because those individuals don’t want to be in touch but more likely, no one actually got my messages. Email addresses have probably changed half a dozen times since joining fifteen years ago. I really should have plunged head-in when the phenomenon was at its height back in those I ♥ the days of the early noughties (Friends Reunited was as much a product of new millennial nostalgia as it was a particular evolutionary stage of the internet).
The news of closure prompted me to think that, far from the internet being preserved for perpetuity, it is rather a web of gossamer fragility, all too easily snatched away by the hands of fate. Those names from long ago, gathered together in the ether for what might have been a near infinite afterlife, turned out to commune in their virtual classroom for only the briefest of moments.
A changing world
Yes, the world has changed substantially since 2000 not least because of Facebook which allows for a far more interactive experience.
It is true also that the very concept of Friends Reunited contained a built-in obsolescence. Having visited and posted a summary of your last ten, twenty of forty years, why would you want to make return visits to people who vanished from your life decades ago, very possibly for good reasons?
But the site contained something of unique value. Nothing will quite replicate its coming together of individuals around communities of schools, clubs and universities in such a structured way. Friends Reunited, inadvertently perhaps, built up an organised anecdotal and photographic archive, establishing a picture of life in particular schools and of the changing educational scene in the UK across many decades.
A lost photo
I had long known that somewhere I had a cut-out of an article from our then local paper, The Surrey Advertiser, from 1975, my last year at primary school.
Last year, I found that article in the bottom of a cardboard box in the back of my loft where it must have sat for over a quarter of a century. With paper fading, yellowed by the glue from my mother pasting it onto hardboard over forty years ago, it seemed as if the children’s faces might revert to mere inky dots before my eyes.
Aptly entitled ‘Tomorrow’s Fond Memories’, the article included a photo of the whole school, pupils and staff, gathered in the playground, smiling upwards at the camera. I remember us all being called together and the cheery press photographer coming to snap us that freezing February lunch-hour. The future of the Victorian village school was uncertain then though it still stands today, apparently thriving, albeit no longer as a C of E school.
Last September, I scanned and posted the article on Friends Reunited under Merrow Street Primary School.
Revisiting Friends Reunited yesterday, I found the site already a crumbling edifice. Like a building stripped of its remaining assets awaiting demolition, photos displayed only as a series of crude placeholders (a couple of lines from Don McLean’s Vincent came to mind – ‘portraits hung in empty halls, frameless heads on nameless walls’).
Tomorrow’s fond memories
What to do with this photo now..? It seems such a shame to return it to the loft for another quarter century. I suppose I feel some responsibility towards my mother for cutting it out and keeping it in the first place. And a debt to my old classmates too. How might they get to see this thing? There may be others who, like me, would feel a sense of joy at discovering it.
But it’s difficult to find the clipping a new home. I could make a donation to the Surrey History Centre where, if accepted, it will be professionally preserved and perhaps occasionally perused by historians but never really open to the joy of accidental or unexpected discovery by those hundred or so ex-pupils – its rightful heirs.
So I thought I’d show it here. I hope you find it poignant in its own right, even if the faces aren’t known to you. Amazingly i remember most of the names. (By the way, that’s me, back row, next to the head-mistress, Miss Potter).
And if you are on here, get in touch!