Primary School: In Happiness and Sorrow

"Art indeed is long, but life is short"

“Art indeed is long, but life is short”

Last summer, I enjoyed the rare fortune of a primary school reunion, fifteen years after leaving. Most of the ten of us who returned to share the evening I had not seen since the age of eleven. It was a remarkable quantum leap – an act of re-self-fashioning – and an evening that has left a profound effect on me ever since. And yet it is with sorrow and tragedy that this memory is graced here.

In Happiness

My young existence is something I am always trying hard to forget. My current life derives from my adult existence: university, tutoring, and a social circle formed after the millennium. The nerves at having to face an audience of that reviled past were chronic. But the company – the lost friends – were welcoming, understanding, and accepting. There was a sense of belonging that I did not expect, given how they must have remembered me.

To be there amongst it was a true privilege. I sat amongst people who were assured, confident, and successful in their lives, all achieving great things. What’s more, they were generous enough as to hope for some great success story from me. It was strangely fulfilling to report that the success was none. The Keith they envisaged did not exist. If they hoped to champion me, instead they found me observing my champions.

Their sense of belonging is admirable. How long has life felt empty and isolating up north? (Indeed, one might wonder where an interest in privacy and interiority comes from?) It remains hard: to know me properly is to know why I am still an outsider. But then, perhaps I should know better than to expect more.

I’ve spent more time up North than down South in 2011, and I’m looking for what has always been missing – a sense of life outside the study door at home.

Reaching out has always been difficult though. I silently will people to extend their reach, and endeavour to accept it. I was more than happy to travel from London to the event last summer after being invited. This winter, despite all the time I’ve spent up North, I could not do the reaching when I was on the doorstep.

In Sorrow

How tragic, then, that something to set alight the flame was the very sad passing of another of our classmates in the Cork plane crash last week, co-pilot Andrew Cantle. Sadly, he was not with us last summer, though of course I wish he had been.

Andrew Marvell wrote an unusual elegy for Lord Hastings in 1649 that lacks emotion. It reads like Marvell did not know the man, but perhaps wanted to know him better. In the consequent inability to connect more deeply than is fitting, he mourns the loss of his kind. Thus follows my eulogy for Andy. My reaction is gauged by the distance between us, but there was so much to admire.

He was an active RNLI volunteer: saving lives, always learning, bettering himself. Andy got me interested in long-distance running. That, I kept and developed, as he clearly did his own skills. As someone who is forever fascinated (if a little intimidated) by low-flying planes passing overhead, piloting is to be awed. His wings of a different sort will take him some place wonderful.

Andy was one of the very few that I left primary school unafraid of. For my innumerable failings as a child, he bore me not a drop of malice or animosity. It is such a terrible shame that someone so determined, selfless, and personable has been taken so early. And I hope there will be an opportunity for the group to reunite this year and toast him on his merry way to making the haven in the sky all the better before the rest of us arrive.

Laid to rest on 24th February 2011.


7 thoughts on “Primary School: In Happiness and Sorrow

    • Hey Adele. It’s really lovely to hear from you, especially here. I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it today; I’m tied to Leicester and London this week. Frustrating too, because I will be making a visit back next week, but the Fates are never always so kind. I’m hoping that memory will serve long beyond today, and that the opportunity will come around again soon. I very much hope that you are well, and that our paths will cross again. x

  1. Keith, what a fantastically well written piece. Someone mentioned it today after the funeral and I made a mental note to read it when I returned home. I’m very pleased I did.

    Your words about Andy really seemed to hit the spot, it’s a shame you couldn’t have been there today, it was very moving and so sad to have had to say goodbye to someone who was such a good friend to so many.

    It’s made us resolve to repeat last summer’s reunion this year so I hope to see you at the next one!


    • Many, many thanks for this wonderful response, Chris. It’s humbling and touching that this little corner was remembered, and that it mattered to you to read and to leave your thoughts. I am very sorry that I couldn’t make it. It has been burning a hole in my conscience, but am gratefully vindicated just a touch that words had a presence where I did not.

      I’ve felt it today; I’ve been speaking about Andy to friends of mine, feeling an urge to tell the story. Such a good lad he was that a little light has gone out in everyone’s lives, whether or not they knew him.

      Fittingly, I’m lightened enormously by the prospect of another reunion. I’ll do absolutely everything possible to make it.

      All the very best!

  2. Pingback: The Second Anniversary: A Song For No-One « Writing Privacy

  3. Keith I love this its amazing, and what u have said about andy so true. We must arrange something soon I can’t wait for a catch up with you all let’s hope it continues for many years to come. Hope your well keith xxx

    • So glad you found this Lisa, and it’s lovely to hear from you. Certainly the texture of this story owes a particular debt to you as well.

      I linger in hope rather than expectation for future events, for all the reasons mentioned above. But then, “Dum spiro spero” as the saying goes 🙂 I think of you often, and hope you’re well too. xx

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