I arrived early, and first: As it was such a glorious day, and I live closer than the others, I felt it important to stake out the area, judge the probable volume of traffic (both human and auto-mobile) and book us a table for lunch in advance.
I am very glad I did: The World, his Wife and, as intimated in yesterday’s post, his Dogs, had convened upon this usually-quiet village in droves. The beach was heaving; car-parking spaces were filling up so quickly I feared the other two would have to find a slot in nearby Weston-super-Mare – and the narrow streets were thronged with colourful grockles and slightly more restrained locals.
Dean arrived next and, having stashed his vehicle in a handy space near the tea rooms, sauntered up to the eatery with me.
As we walked to the table I had booked, I saw a woman who looked familiar – very, very familiar – sitting at the table in front with a man and two teenage girls.
Long story short, it was Paula M, a lovely girl (as she was then) in one of my favourite-ever tutor groups at Worle Community School (where I taught for so long). I last saw Paula back in the summer of 1991, when she and the rest of that year group left school after their GCSEs.
It was such a pleasure to see her again: To hug and reminisce and laugh and catch up a bit. She had not changed in the important ways. I remembered her date of birth (as I usually do with ex-pupils, no matter how long ago I taught them) – an odd little quirk of mine which I would be the first to admit is not normal and, in all probability, a sign either of mild Autism or psychic ability! I suspect the former since I also have decided OCD tendencies and am socially inept.
Dean and I sat down – and I then got an inner call, telling me I needed to go outside and look for Morgy. This I did – just as her car rolled up at the entrance.
The three of us ate and chatted and laughed and put the world to rights and discussed our forthcoming walk up to St Nicholas’ Church (which, in a burst of chronological rebellion, I wrote about first yesterday) – and then, all of a sudden, Dean spotted a girl he went to school with outside and, upon further investigation, spotted a large part of her tribe seated in the courtyard opposite the cafe.
To my delight, the Matriarch of Clan U was Barbara, a lovely lady – now in her eighties – whom Dean and I knew back in our Red Triangle, Theatre in the Hut, Britannia Inn days, and who was also a supply teacher at Worle School for many, many years.
We dashed over and exchanged many a hug and a laugh and a photo-call or several – and it was perfect. We spoke of my novels, and Barbara said she would love to read one!
I often joke that I cannot throw a stone without hitting an ex-pupil, and often bump into ex-colleagues too. Such occasions are almost invariably pleasurable and life-affirming.
These two meetings were healing, actually: They reminded me of the best parts of my teaching career – and also gave me back memories of the school which (now, sadly, experiencing serious difficulties) was, back in the day, the very best in Weston and a wonderful place to teach in.
But also, these chance meetings gave me huge reassurance, at a time when everything is desperately scary and unstable in my life, that I have made a difference to some people’s lives; that those I met decades ago do, often, recall me with affection; that I am not the paper-thin, pain-racked, insubstantial failure I so often feel myself to be in the thick of this divorce; that I am loved and wanted and valued by those who really matter – and that there are good, caring, special people out in the world whom I can trust and who will lighten my existence just by existing themselves.