The other day, while I was putting away some letters and cards I received in the past two years (yes, I keep lots of stuff and, yes, I'm very behind in my filing), I came across several envelopes containing hand-painted cards, a few pebbles and bits of driftwood. They were sent to me last Christmas by the guy who was the Art Master at the school in Tewkesbury where I was the ‘French Madamoiselle’ in 1969-70.
David was a lovely, eccentric artist. At the time, he was having an intense affair with the PE mistress – a buxom girl called Sue, who became my best friend there. I used to tag along, when my presence wasn’t an intrusion, and sometimes even when it was beginning to be (it was the late ‘60s, LOL!). We used to listen to music and have impromptu parties. David had a Mini, which he drove like a madman. We went to the Cheltenham Film Club to see – oh, how bohemian! – foreign films (England was so insular then). David wasn’t just an artist, he was also a wonderful photographer – he took the one photograph of me I don’t mind looking at. He was friendly, fun and kind, and I was very sorry when I left and lost touch with him and Sue a couple of years later (they didn’t get married, by the way).
Fast forward 32 years and in a fit of nostalgia I register with Friends Reunited to see if any of my old ‘pupils’ are still around, and before I know it I receive an email from David. He has been married for years and years, has two grown-up daughters and is still teaching, painting and taking photographs. He wants to meet me; wants to come down to London and stay with me; wants to take me to an exhibition... Hey, slow down, it's all going a bit too fast. We exchange a couple more emails and he says all the wrong things. I can’t quite put my finger on why they’re wrong, they just are, and I know we wouldn’t get on. He calls one evening and again says things that make my hackles rise. I decide I don't want to pursue the relationship any further. I find some excuse for not responding to his emails. I feel angry and disappointed: he has spoiled the sweet memories I have of my year in Tewkesbury. I would have got the message. He didn’t. Since then I’ve received masses of letters and cards and odd objets trouvés (he lives by the sea).
What saddens me is that it’s not impossible to renew old friendships: I am in touch with a few people I used to know 30 years ago and who weren’t part of my life for many years in between. When I found them again (or they found me), we picked up where we’d left off. It’s a fantastic feeling – there’s nothing like old friends – but it doesn’t work every time and one has to acknowledge it.
I curse the day I came across Friends Reunited – I gather it has a lot of broken marriages, and even some deaths, on its conscience – and I’m slapping people who behave like stalkers and refuse to recognize when they’re unwanted (yes, I’m talking about you too, S).