How can one be lost amongst familiar faces? We see them, especially when we shut our eyes; they guide one back to where one came from. They emerge on the road running to the present, like faces on billboards, and they lurk around the corners of the memory advertising where one has been. Where to go. (?) But not everyone runs. … Alright, walks then to the present. Some shuffle. Some sleep. … To sleep, to dream, to shuffle off this mortal coil. How about wheels? ha! (Isn’t it always really about me?) The wheeler dealer recollection of familiar faces brings us to this moment. Particular memories of particular people who each in their turn brought one to this here and now. How can you trust those faces? No mate, not everybody wants something from you. No, but some give you what you don’t want. And each shapes you along the way. Friend and foe impacts you, and contributes to the life you lead, the pathway you took, the road you ran, the…
Rob? Rob? No mate, it was just a 5 second nap.
Even asleep, we are awake. Especially if you’re Rob. Even at 5.00 a.m.
Jacarandas are in bloom. Purple low lying clouds caught up on the periphery and perpetually smudged against the suburban backdrop. Imagine the streets without them? Yet still the barbed wire and the walls and the palisades and the contravallations and the… What? The barricades. Ah, well, everything is in a constant state of siege. Look!
Remember, Rob, here’s where the cave is? Yes, I should have left you down there with your dead brother, man? That rope was never gonna hold both of you, never mind you alone. Thought he was really dead! Had to run all the way back to fetch your parents! (Ha! We change things in the memory file, and when we take it out again the thing is as we last filed it; changed.)
The entrance to Pretoria Boy’s High School has changed. Two are blocked. Now there’s a guarded gate at the old third, and the gated grounds. Here let me take a picture through the fence for you. Wow! Here’s where we used to… this is new! That’s new! A wild-bird sanctuary? Fenced lower fields. Buildings. This road wasn’t tarred. Meticulous grounds! Sign posts everywhere. No, not ‘just’ for us. Look, there’re some schoolboys. Same old uniform! Yeah, he got my hand-me-downs. To think, we looked like that? Here’re two familiar faces. Are we late? No, it’s only 8.00. Hello! Hello! Hello! I say, hello! Familiar faces, worn out places. But… man the grounds look good! So do you! So do…
There is a sense of being stunned amongst the waddle and fiddle-fuddle and huddle and gaggle of us. There is a slight awkwardness. When did we last meet? What story do we have in common? There’s… Justin, and Bert! And Brian, and Ken, and Tony! Hello Doc, Charlie, Andy, Glynn! And hello Alan, and Peter, and… Ma Erasmus! Ma Laredo! Mr. Gibbs. We grow progressively animated. Some beam with welcome. Some old friends hug, pat the back. Some give a hand-shake; look away. Some hold hand to hand, hand to wrist, unashamedly over-long; once again connected. Maybe 60 of us. Sixty going on 60. (Well, almost.) And thank goodness for name tags. Where? Solomon Boarding House, front of lawn. Welcome speech. Headmaster, Tony Reeler, young at a mid-thirties-look, handsome, friendly, casual and yet appropriately formal. Be-gowned as a modern-day graduate. All the masters looked like that! Still do; like black be-gowned ghosts who come sailing in on the wide-coated wings of the long ago. Do they still use a cane? No…
And then there’s the guided walk of the grounds, with the two prefects and modern-day master John Ilsley (no, no relation to Keith), and facts and details and figures and accounting and explanations and feelings and… faces. And… who’s pushing me along now? Vernon! Quenton! Ken! Brian! Faces. Simon! Tony! And the names one recalls, reads, remembers, and the faces one recalls, now reads, but then there comes no other remembrance. Oh, but yes! Eyes alternately slide, glide, surface, grab hold in the mind, and then in the heart, and we embrace the past in the now, giving so much promise to the future.
The grounds are truly magnificent. Yes, they are among the most prestigious in the world. The costs are staggering. The upkeep. The staff of 200. The boys of 1500. The boarding houses. The staff housing. The new This and the new That and the sheer cost of it all, with a government subsidy of only 12%. We owe. We owe. It’s off to the bank we go. Yes, but does such a relatively small % of boys really need a several million dollar playing surface? Look at that field hockey pitch. Look at the implicit cost, the explicit need. How many pools? How many pupils? Differentiated pools for such divers and differentiated talents. Yes. But what lies deeper than the material edifice? What is really beyond the very evident politeness, control of curriculum, rigidity of uniformed expectations? How does the individual fellow, the boy without the benefit of deep-pocketed father or mothers, father and mothers, or some even without parents, a parent, how does he not only survive, but thrive? 22,000 Rand for a Day boy, about 26 ,000 Rand for a boarder. Yes, per annum. Per augusta ad longata. Per virtute et labore. Per the Power of Four! What? Esoteric. What? Per pedagogy! Oh! Yes. It all adds up.
The tea is in the old art room, with its access to the courtyard above which the koppie-classes still parade. Desks are still the same. Look! That’s my name! What’s your name? Ah, yes, the boys are now still Sir This, and Sir That, and Sir May I help you Sir, and Thank You Sir, and they are the new South Africa. Colours disappear. Faces reveal souls. People become persons. The future lies here! We need no longer fear. We… need.
The assembly is really in the gathering of the individuals, here in this old hall. It is the collective homage to the past, the recall of what once was, the evidence of the changed now, the direction and reward of the future. Forty years on when afar and asunder, parted are those who are singing today! And in the hands of all of what was, is, and shall be. Ad infintum! Amen.
No, not amen. We go now to lunch. Down at the old cricket pavilion. Atop those stairs? We’ll help each other up. It’ll take more of you. Assist. Assist! Pipers. Amazing grace. Old school tie? For me? Thanks! Thanks! Amazing!