School Reunion

In which The Author acquires some new PC software

My technophobic brother surprised us all recently. The man who once swore that he would never touch a computer again texted me to say that he’d bought a digital camera. Mind you, he added the proviso that he was too scared to take it out of the box because of all the techno-jargon. I assured him that I’d talk him through him the basics, but between work and other commitments, I didn’t have chance to get down to his house last week.
Last Sunday morning, he knocked my door. He’d taken his dog and the camera for a walk, and wanted to show me the results. It’s a very nice piece of kit – a Canon A470, with 3X optical zoom, autofocus and all the extras. Unfortunately, he hadn’t thought to bring the software with him, so we were able to view his first batch of pictures, but not to manipulate them at all. We walked back to his place, and I picked up the software CDs. I installed it on my computer during the week, and one useful package caught my eye – Canon Photostitch.
I’m sure many photographers have surveyed wonderful prospects while out walking and tried to take a continuous panorama, turning the camera by hand and trying to align the finished shots afterwards. Some old-timers might even remember the long school photos of bygone days, which used to hang in pride of place in the corridors leading from the main entrance. (I wonder if they still take them.)
They took one in our school in the summer of 1978, when I was twelve years old. It was the last photo taken of Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School. It switched to the comprehensive system in September of that year. I was one of the last intake to the Grammar School, in September 1977, and for this reason I find this whole-school photo particularly precious. It’s as much a historical document as a souvenir of times past.
All 600+ pupils who were there on the day, together with the teachers and support staff, lined up in rows in the yard. We sat on the ground at the front; teachers and staff sat on gym benches behind us, and the rest of the school flanked them on both sides. Some distance ahead, a man with an elaborate array of gear coaxed us into position. His camera was mounted on a motorised head, and on his signal everyone froze as it panned from one end of our carefully posed school to the other. A few weeks later, our proud parents paid for this once-in-a-lifetime memento of their sons’ education. The photos were only taken every five years or so, so the chances of being in two consecutive ones were pretty slim!
I’ve still got mine. I took it to the pub a few years ago, and Richard Bruton, Adrian Griffiths and I spent a nostalgic hour trying to put names to long-forgotten faces. There were ninety of us in that Class of ’77, fresh-faced and tiny in a huge pond of fearsome teachers and even more fearsome older pupils. If you had an older brother, then you would at least know some people older than yourself. If (as in my case) you were the firstborn son, then you knew nobody outside your own year. Your mates were the guys you’d been in primary school with beforehand, but you wouldn’t see all of them in your lessons. Those of us born between September and December went into one class, January to April birthdays formed another class, and May to August were the third group. The old gangs only had opportunity to meet up during breaks, or on the playing fields, or on the journey home at the end of the day.
It’s interesting to look at the front row – those are my schoolmates and I, aged eleven or twelve, still largely grouped in friendships forged in primary school. Later on, these old alliances were weakened by the vagaries of the calendar. New clusters formed by means of gravitational attraction, centred on football teams and pop/rock groups.
Now, thirty years on, I’m hard-pressed to name more than a couple of dozen of my contemporaries. These are guys with whom I spent at least five years in a fairly close environment. Except for a handful of old friends who still live in Aberdare, and have done for so long that we’ve always seen each other around, I don’t see most of them from one year to the next.
At the funeral of a friend just before Christmas, a guy came up and said ‘hello’ to me after the service. He had to tell me who he was. I remembered his name, but not much else about him. He recognized me straight away! That’s pretty scary.
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to go to a school reunion. Only this morning Brian Matthew read a letter out on his Radio 2 show, from someone arranging a reunion of their old schoolfriends from the 1960s. Every so often, you see similar letters in the local papers. The nearest we came to an organized reunion was a couple of years ago, when Trevor and the Sprouts played a stupendous gig at the Falcon Inn in Aberaman.
Everyone we expected to turn up was there, along with a few unexpected faces for good measure. A lot of the old gang are married now, with families of their own. Some have been married, got divorced, and have a new relationship on the go. Purely by the law of averages, a couple of them must have boyfriends, rather than girlfriends. I know for a fact that one of the guys in the long photo passed away a few years ago. I expect there are a couple of other obituaries to be written for the Class of ’77.
I don’t feel that I have that much in common with them any more, but I was definitely part of the group. I’ve got the photo to prove it. I’m in the front row, in front of the history teacher and the PE teacher (ironically, two of my least favourite lessons!)

Me detail

And now, thanks to the wonders of Canon Photostitch, I’m able to reunite the Class of ’77. I simply scanned in the picture in sections, making sure that there was a substantial overlap, and let the software work its magic. It made the six component parts into one long narrow JPEG – and here it is:
The Class of '77
The Class of ’77
See you around, guys – in this world, or the next …

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