For those who care to remember, 5X was the (then) O-Level year form who were meant to be good at languages. French and Latin were obligatory: German, Greek and – in a world still trapped in a Cold War mentality – Russian were the third language options on offer. Spanish had to wait till the 6th
The 1972-73 vintage of 5X have, over the last couple of years, come together in a fairly organic, un-regimented way, and have really rather enjoyed the experience. The trigger was a June 2018 gig at the 606 Club in Chelsea where one of the cohort, Philip Dodd, was performing with his jazz quartet, an annual event. It happened that Robert Madelin, who lives in Brussels, was, for once, going to be in London on the right day and could take up a standing invitation to come along. He suggested a couple of other people, and before we knew it there were eight of us able to hook up for the evening which, because it was very informal and relaxed, meant it didn’t feel like a ‘reunion’.
We enjoyed our company enormously that night and so organised a supper at the Groucho Club in Soho a few months later, where we were joined by two new attendees. And so it went. In the past two years we have met up in various combinations at a variety of events: a Wycombe Wanderers home match, another 606 evening and a cricket day at the RGS. And our numbers, thanks to Google and Linkedin, have grown to 14...
My elder brother, Andrew, who was a couple of years above me, had kept the 1972/73 edition of the legendary Grey Book which was a handy reference point. There were 31 of us in 5X that year, under form-master D.R. (‘Dai’) Chamberlain, holed up in Room 35, which was a terrapin building not far from the Science block. Of those 31, we know that two if us have, sadly, died (if they are the only ones, that’s slightly better than the actuarial tables would suggest). Only one of the classmates we approached turned us down flat, which we completely respected: everyone else was happy to be back in touch. And we continue to reach out to the others on the list.
We have talked about why we enjoy our company so much, having never or rarely been part of school reunions, and many of us imagining that university, work or family relationships were stronger. What we have come to realise is that the majority of us spent four years – from the 2nd
year through to the 5th
form – seeing each other every weekday during term times, and often outside that at parties, gigs or just hanging out. And many of us did similar A Levels through the 6th
form. Between the ages of 11 and 18 was a hugely formative time for all of us, plus we were quite a close-knit group, bonding then as now over music and sport and sharing the joys and horrors of being teenagers.
When we meet now there is of course some looking back, re-discovering shared experiences of teachers (and caretakers!), school routines and bad behaviour, but we also talk as much, of not more, about what we are doing in our lives right now – pretty much as we did when we were 16. I think we have all been surprised by how much we have enjoyed all of this. So although one or two didn’t have an entirely positive RGS experience, they are nonetheless appreciating being part of the reunited group.
Given the lockdown, this year’s 606 Club gig had to be postponed, so we organised a Zoom session in early May: eleven of us were free that evening, raising a glass with the tipple of our choice to Robert Madelin, whose birthday was the following day. Chris Hawtree patched himself in on audio only from his phone, sitting on the beach at Hove. We are now planning our next gathering, either virtual or in person, and looking forward to it immensely.
One of us wrote following that Zoom call (having previously been watching that evening’s No. 10 press conference), ‘It cheered me up no end to listen to you all. You all prove that there are a lot of decent, public-spirited, intelligent, unselfish, kind people in this country, just not many in Westminster...’ Philip Dodd