Witchcraft and School Friends

Hastily, I should explain that he two parts of the title are not connected!

Saturday I got up at the crack of dawn and dawn cracks pretty early in June in the UK, to set off for London. As I heaved a case of books on and off trains I started to realise that a week of moving books and furniture (there will be a forthcoming post about this activity) had taken a toll on my back. Notwithstanding, I arrived at The Society of Genealogists to take part in their Seventeenth Century day seminar. Unfortunately even my ‘first train of the day’ start was not early enough to get me there in time to hear Elsa Churchill but I caught most of Colin Chapman’s informative session, packed with sources for C17th research. Colin and I often turn up on the same bill and it is always a pleasure to listen to him. After the lunch break and some running repairs to the air conditioning, which appeared to allow the room to be cold or hot but nothing in between, it was my turn.

I chatted about the impact of witchcraft on the lives of our C17th ancestors and lightened my load by re-homing some of my books, in return for a perfectly reasonable sum of money. Strangely, after becoming interested in this topic as part of my general foray into the social history of the C17th, I discovered that one of those tried for witchcraft, Joanna Elford, was probably related to me. I was followed by Michael Gandy and was very thankful that it wasn’t the other way round. Michael’s subject was how to read C17th handwriting and I suspect the audience were expecting sight of letter shapes and perhaps collective interpretation of documents. This was not to be. It takes an exceptional speaker to engage an end of the day audience for an hour and a half with not a single visual aid. Unbelievably, Michael held the room in thrall with an entertaining, relevant, tour de force on this topic without actually showing us any C17th writing at all – brilliant.

Then it was off to catch up with my school fellows who made up the class of 1974. I had missed the reunion itself but fifteen tail-enders were to spend the night in a nearby hotel and I set off to join them. School reunions can be fraught with anxieties: ‘What shall I wear?’ in my case compounded by the lack of room in the case full of books and the need to make it suitable for the talk as well. ‘Will I recognise anyone?’ ‘Will anyone recognise me?’ and if they do, does this mean I have worn well or that I still look as gawky as I did at school? ‘Have I been sufficiently successful?’ And most importantly, ‘How do my wrinkles/greying hair/middle aged spead compare?’. Of course anyone who voluntarily reconnects with a group of people they haven’t seen for forty years is going to be someone who is comfortable in their own skin, someone who feels they have ‘arrived’, by their own standards if not by anyone else’s.

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I limp my way as far as East Croydon station and decide that I really can’t face trying to find out where they have hidden the 64 bus stop since I was last here. I therefore elected to spend a high proportion of my book sales money on a taxi to the hotel. Said hotel is ‘posh’ by my standards. Ok, I know most of my hotel going is of the Premier Inn variety but this is four star. Although the surroundings are lovely it turns out that really only the prices are four star. Admittedly our party was accompanied by two sets of wedding guests and a group of England football supporters, who may well have been renegades from one of the wedding receptions but the service was execrable. I was expecting the food to be of the variety where you need a magnifying glass to see anything beyond the drizzle but there were several mouthfuls on each plate. Unfortunately, I somehow managed to choose something that contained two of my least favourite foods but that was my own fault.

My room is situated in the furthest reaches of the building, on the top floor and along an extremely long corridor. I struggle along with my case, which although no longer quite so full of books, was still heavier than my increasingly ‘twinging’ back was comfortable with. I come to terms with the room’s idiosyncrasies. The shower has no visible means of being switched on. I try turning, pushing and pressing various parts of the mechanism and am on the point of giving up when something I do results in water gushing out. Sadly, it took whoever was in the neighbouring room until 2.00am to work out how theirs worked and then they had a noisy and lengthy shower. Then there was the bed. To begin with I had twin beds that had been pushed together. I kept losing things down the narrow gap between the beds. Having retrieved the Kindle for the third time, whilst listening to midnight wedding revellers, I was beginning to despair. The bed was also as hard as ….. I will refrain from making any of the possible obscene similes here and just say it wasn’t very hard, not ideal when one has a bad back.

Of course none of this really mattered because we were there to meet our former school fellows and the chatting and reminiscing was in full force. We all have slightly different perceptions of the rarefied atmosphere that was our alma mater but agreed that we had an excellent grounding for our varied futures. Whether school days were the best or worst days of our lives, if we are historians, we should be recording our memories. Of course it is much easier to recall those memories in the company of those who shared them. If an actual reunion isn’t possible, what about a virtual one? Facebook, Google+, or just plain emails, are all possible vehicles for this. I and my classmates may not being doing this again in another forty years but a good time was had by all.

Then there was the journey home. Now, as I have said on previous occasions, I am no longer fit to be let out on my own. One of my former school fellows had offered to shepherd me back to the station. Where I come from two busses a day is considered a regular service but of course I am now almost in the metropolis so there are plenty of options, despite it being a Sunday. We are going for the tram. Ah, there are no trams. The police have cordoned off the area round our destination due to an illegal rave. I know I and my former classmates were on the rowdy side but to call us an illegal rave seems harsh. A bus driver is planning to go as close as the police will allow to the station and we hop on board. In my case the ‘hopping’ was more of a hauling but we are on our way. Although the road is closed, the station is open and I start the journey home through the engineering works and tube line closures. I manage to get an earlier than planned train out of London but sadly not early enough to get a different train from Exeter onwards. Two hours on a wooden bench at Exeter station puts paid to any remaining mobility in my back. Eventually home safe and sound. Now to edit the ‘year book’ that we are compiling; interesting to see the different paths that we have all taken.

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