I’ve been back to Thorp Academy this afternoon, to tell sixth form students about my day job. What an impressive bunch of young people they all are – and set to lead lives far more exciting than mine. Other alumni were there too, all with sparkling achievements packed into lives that are still young, so nothing like me then. We were in the lecture hall, which, back in the day, used to be the gym. When we were done I asked if I might take a couple of photos. If you visit a place every day, or at least fairly often, memories of times long ago tend to be watered down. The last time I was in this particular part of the academy I was a pupil, so easily 40 years ago now, and the absence has made my recollections as vivid as an HD film. I remarked to the lady accompanying me (I’m sorry I didn’t get her name) that it was quite nice to be there, but also nice to be able to walk out again of my own free will. The gym was never my favourite place. I went back to my car with the feeling that if I wanted to, I could go to my Dad’s old classroom, sit down at the back and wait for him to finish teaching, then we could go home together.
I was keen on photography when I was at school, and a couple of years ago I unearthed some old negatives and had them printed out again. Some of them are already on Facebook, but I’ve added them here too. I love holding the negatives up to the light and looking at the reverse images. When we see a printed photograph it’s on a piece of paper that was still a tree when the picture was taken, or you’re studying them right now on a tablet, phone, or laptop. The negatives though, were present at the actual event. That bit of grey celluloid is the very material that I held up in my camera, clicked the shutter, and recorded the image focused upon it. The hurdlers landed on their feet, the tennis ball dropped back to earth, and we all went into school and got changed. Then we went on to leave school permanently, have jobs, get married, divorced, have babies, arguments, happy times and disappointments. Sadly, at least two of the young people in the photographs I’m showing to you are no longer with us. Throughout it all though, right over the years, that scrap of celluloid lay up in my mother’s loft and stayed the same, never-changing. The teenagers are frozen there, where they will never grow old or wrinkled, and where, most certainly, they will never die.
Much of the school is to be demolished, including Dad’s old classroom. Kay, who is a member of staff at Thorp, has kindly offered to let me take photographs of Dad’s classroom during the summer recess. He was never particularly fond of the room himself (or indeed of the school as a whole) but I’d like to step in there one more time before it goes, and I’ll ask Kay if I may also take photographs throughout the other parts of the academy due for demolition. I’ll do it properly, because once they’re gone, well they’re gone…..