24 May 2019
The image above is from 1966 and it is the only photograph I have of my parents before they got married. In the picture my Dad is 18 and my mother is 16 and they seem completely oblivious to anything other than each other. My parents were married later that year and we gave them a framed copy of the photograph when they celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2006. I’ve often wondered if my sister and I would view it as being so special if it were merely one of hundreds. Would we even look at or remember it if that were the case? The photograph matters to me but my parents were slightly less enamoured. ‘You can’t really see us in it’ my mother commented afterwards.
Our Y11 and 13 students have left recently and they followed the ‘leaving’ rituals that have come to define 21st Century schools. They signed shirts and year books, had their photographs taken with teachers and friends and watched a slide show that featured their year 7 photographs. Those photographs always generate the best reaction, capturing them at a key moment of transition.
I spoke with two Durham Johnston in that week. After the Y11 leaving assembly I went to collect some resources from the History corridor. On my way there, I encountered one of our Y11 students taking photographs of the lockers and classrooms. He is a lovely student, but in the spirit of our safeguarding times, I asked him what he was doing. He explained that he wanted to remember the school and, in particular, the rooms in which he had been taught. Therefore, taking photographs was the logical thing to do. Take a large number of photographs and keep them. There is something about a collection of such photographs that can be a little unnerving years later, but I understood the impulse. The second student left the school in 1955 and is responsible for the painting of DJ below.
One student wanted to capture memories and had taken over 100 photographs, the other was reliant upon memory and a single photograph from the Durham archive. When discussing the painting he told me about his art classroom, located on the top floor to the left of the building. As he described the room it was clear that he was visualising, after 70 years, what it was like to be in that room, transported back to the 1950s. His memory might well have been inaccurate, but the sentiment and feeling provoked by the memory was tangible. Which of the hundreds of photographs will inspire that feeling in our current students? Is there a danger that we collate and archive so much in the modern world that we no longer have the time to fully reflect upon or experience things. In their final assemblies year 11 were encouraged to live in the moment and there is validity in that.
As a delegate at a recent conference I had the opportunity to visit my old school. Built in the 1960s, it has had more relaunches and 'under new management' signs than a rundown old pub, but I still have fond memories of my time there. As part of the train journey, stuck outside Doncaster, I began to remember my daily walk to school, going through the gates, onto the yard and then through to my form room. Later, as we were taken on a tour, I was surprised that I had got some things right regarding layout, but a number of things glaringly wrong. Memories are not always reliable, but my sense of being back in the building was very evocative. After returning to Durham I checked through old photographs and don’t have a single one of my former school, but my memories, however inaccurate, are sufficient. What I have extracted is the good advice and support I was given whilst there and the friendships that have lasted. I hope that those who have recently left take more from their experience at Durham Johnston than simply the archives that they have created.
Nostalgia - a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.