Most people when they think of Tamworth, think country music and the festival held each January. I’m not a lover of country music… other than a little Johnny Cash. When I think of Tamworth, it’s of being 17 years old, and the 2 years I spent at boarding school.
When I started at Calrossy TCEGS in 1982, I was 16, a small country town kid, and an only child. For a while my psyche was hijacked by bouts of homesickness: one minute I was happy, the next I was wracked with an awful displacement. Then it stopped.
The next thing that happened was I gained weight. I had been a 3 sugars in tea and coffee person but at home in Murrurundi I was incidentally and continually active. Boarding school life was predominantly confined to the buildings and grounds. Weekdays we had morning sessions of physical exercise. I played town comp basketball. We walked to “town”. That was it. I also ate a diet designed around what would cheaply & sufficiently, rather than nutritiously, feed a couple of hundred teenage girls, which we supplemented with food from home and anything we could sneak from the kitchen or dining room… Weet-Bix sandwiches of peanut butter & honey being a favourite.
I acclimatised surprisingly quickly, assisted by being only an hour from home. I saw friends and family regularly. I enjoyed school, the art room, activities, my classmates and teachers. Being a senior I had a certain amount of liberty to leave the grounds, especially in my final year. It was a first taste of freedom and life away from my family.
Boarding school is the same as any situation where people spend a lot of time together… in a relationship, home, workplace… The quote “High school is very intense for everyone. But at a boarding school, because you’re there 24 hours a day, everything gets magnified” sums it up. I made good friends & have only good memories, and at the end of the 2 years, my tears of sadness to be leaving bookended those first tears of homesickness.
Prior to departure I’m up with the G.O.’s 5 am alarm; drink coffee & do a little blog surfing; decide I have plenty of time for a 40 minute walk; pack my bag to be on the safe side; go for a walk; upon returning realise I don’t have that much time; make a quick breakfast; shower; dress, change tops, put new top on wrong way and inside out; get call at 10.30 am from the G.O… who has a horror of running late to the airport because of one occasion… was it only my responsibility to set the alarm?… to make sure I’m about to leave, which I am – almost; get cab to airport; at airport rearrange packing formation of carry-on bag half a dozen times until it fits into the cradle that rates it as cabin luggage; go through security scan, forget to separate out tiny aerosol deodorant, wait for security personnel to extract it from carry-on bag & and scan it separately to make sure it is a tiny aerosol deodorant; walk to gate 58 at the other end of the airport; listen to attendants endlessly call late people to flights, which delays my flight; finally walk down stairs onto the tarmac and up stairs onto plane. I’d forgotten, regional travel is a little more basic and the planes are much smaller.
My flight, running late, lands in Tamworth just after 1.30 pm. As I call a cab and turn off flight mode multiple text messages beep, including one from my friend Nanna “Are you getting off plane I can see? I have just arrived near airport”. My lovely friend Nanna also running late, figured somehow it was my plane and was already driving around to collect me.
Getting in the car, I smelled then saw a lime green carry bag containing my tea order: Japanese Green Lime; Ginger & Lemongrass; Rose Petals; and Dragon Pearls (white tea) which I’d ordered from Nanna for special school reunion delivery. Nanna zooms us away from the airport as we talk nonstop punctuated with a few exclamatory swear words which we’re both trying to be more circumspect about employing… oh dear.
Arriving at my motel, Mrs S. emerges from the room next to mine. As I hang a couple of things & unpack, she and Nanna settle into the comfy chairs and we chat for half an hour. We’re supposed to be meeting up with the greater group but decide to head off for coffee first. Nanna takes us to Addimi where I enjoy one of the best long black (Americano) coffees I’ve had [shame on you Sydney baristas] served with a small tumbler of sparkling water.
Revived and still engaged in nonstop three way chat it is mid afternoon when we head up to The Tamworth Hotel to meet up with the rest of the group. We collect cold drinks from the bar; water & ice for me as the day still has a way to go, and head to the beer garden. It is great to walk into the congregation of familiar faces, most who I hadn’t seen for 10 years, some longer, but seems like yesterday.
A couple of hours later we break to go back to our various accommodations to prepare for sparkling pre-dinner drinks at 6 pm. Nanna drops Mrs S. & I off, and heads to her mum’s. After quick preparations our motel group assembles, deciding who’s driving and who’s walking. Mrs S & I elect to walk, with another 4. As we get to the main road and wait at the traffic lights, I was amused to see a young man also waiting, check us out, and wander further along – we may have looked a little too much like middle aged hens nighters for comfort…
As we arrive at the front garden of the old cottage that houses Le Pruneau, it is sprinkled with fairy lights, which lends a lovely atmosphere to the bubbly wine served by a personable young waiter who chatted as he poured, about his ambitions to become an airline steward for which he would be certainly be suited. He copes with 21 of us plus 2 husbands, and conversation at a decibel level such that as I walk out to call the G.O., I have to go 50 yards down the street until the noise of the group is muted enough to conduct a mobile phone conversation.
When the bubbly runs out and the night gets chilly we head inside where there is more wine, conversation, laughter, old photos, year books, memories and food. Seated, we catch up with our table mates until after entree we shift places, and post-dinner we flow around the tables.
We make a toast to absent friends. There is one round of hands-up-if-you questions: are married; have kids; are divorced; are a grandmother; and as an afterthought, are a lesbian. No takers on the last… hmmmm. Conversation is about where we live, kids, grandkids, lost parents, husbands, divorces, careers, holidays, the past, present and future. We’re of an era and age where it’s all possible.
11.30 pm arrives and as we’d talked, laughed, drank, eaten, paid and the staff had homes to go to, we leave with arrangements to meet for breakfast. We walk back in refreshingly chilly air to the motel where I put in a late call to the G.O. who’d been at a mate’s place and had left me a message he was still up. By 12.30 am I was asleep.
Daylight & noises wake me at 7 am. I enjoy a quiet, solitary cup of tea, and didn’t quite so appreciate the coolish shower… should have jumped in quicker. Doors open and we meet outside in morning sun. By 9 am, more photos have been taken as several are departing. Leaving my bag at the motel, Mrs S. drives us to The Old Bell Tower for breakfast. More chat, more photos: the waitresses can’t make themselves heard trying to deliver drinks and food orders to our tables. By 11.30 am all but a few classmates have departed.
My flight isn’t until 1.40 pm and I want to go for a walk and take photos. I entertain thoughts of a browse in the shops but there is no time. Nanna who with a bad head cold made a heroic effort, staying out the night before and getting up for breakfast, says she’d drive me. But by this time I need space, air and movement.
At 11.40 am I make my farewells, and race up the hill to our old school, snap photos and proceed to walk back down through the town centre, across the bridge back to the motel. Enroute I call a cab which meets me at the motel at 12.40 pm, and gets me to the airport in time to check in, repack my bag once again into acceptable cabin formation, and board at 1.20 pm for the flight which leaves on schedule at 1.40 pm.
Always a fun thing to do at airports is star spotting, and at Tamworth airport for the return flight I spot Claudia Chan Shaw from ABC TV’s The Collectors who was in Tamworth to talk about her book Collectomania. Also held in Tamworth over the weekend was The Australian Country Dance Festival, and on the return flight I recognise a couple of the faces of the special guests – Nadia Friel & Paula Greenwood, familiar from where I’m not sure.
By 3 pm, I’m home. Happy.
What is it about a school reunion that simultaneously attracts, repels and unnerves?
This weekend I’ll hop on a plane for the short flight, booked in August last year, to Tamworth “Country Music Capital of Australia”, where I attended boarding school for my last 2 years in 1982-83.
The lead up has comprised 12 months of sporadic email correspondence from and to the motivated classmate who instigated the event. It’s a weekend I was looking forward to until it arrived. Having been away last week for 4 days to Taylors Arm, my anticipation is dulled at the thought of heading off again.
It’s our third class reunion. I’ve attended each, as well as keeping up with various classmates in various ways at various times, attending each others weddings, functions and parties, plus regular ongoing friendship with Mrs S. & Nanna. Now of course, many of us keep up via Facebook.
Although I have a relaxed attitude to clothes and appearance, I’m adequately groomed and look fine from day to day. So why did I prepare for the 24 hours I will be placed among 25 of my peers, a group of 47-48 year old women with similar education and backgrounds, by feeling the need:
- for the confidence boost of a haircut, which to be fair I was due for anyway but more than likely I would have continued to prevaricate over?
- to check and update a few contents of my makeup bag, which mainly serves me to appear as if I’ve made at effort in the office, and at weddings & similar events?
- to make sure my purchase of several items of new season Autumn-Winter apparel occurred prior, yet assign my reliable outfit of black top, favourite jeans [minor panic this morning when checking to see if they were clean I thought I had left them at Taylors Arm] and tan boots, as my ensemble for the main event?
Maybe it’s because, I suddenly feel like a stranger… One of the classmates, who I have only seen at reunions, proposed each of us submit a blurb which initially she proposed as why don’t we all write a para blurb on where we are … family, life, work etc. & circulate closer to the date for everyone ??? I’m sure we all have a few tales to tell but then efficiently compiled into a series of form criteria which the organiser dutifully disseminated with a note … has come up with a great idea. Attached is a sheet for everyone to fill out & send back to me about where you are “AT” in life & where you have been! Great idea so we can have a read up on everyone before 4 May. Fill it out & get it back to me when you have/make time (never have time!).
I wonder if it’s ok for me to skip the first 13 lines and once at the reunion with glass of wine in hand, wing it with “Other” ?