Monday, May 6, 2013

Nostalgia - A visit to my Primary School

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Regardless of how you may have felt about something - whether it be a place, person or people, event, or period - from earlier in your life "back in the day", looking back, you'll often find yourself having a strong sense of fondness for how things were. Accompanying this, there is also often a kind of curiosity about how things are now. Is everything still the way that it was back then (or as you seem to remember it)? Has the passage of time been kind on those aspects which you hold most dear? And what is there now that wasn't before, that those following in your footsteps now get to enjoy and cherish?

It has been said that nostalgia, or a yearning for "the way things were, 'back in the day'" is often a reflection of tough times; that perhaps things have not turned out as you may have once dreamed of, or that the going has been tough as of late. Indeed, with the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, we here in Canterbury have been through quite a lot. With many parts of the region in which I grew up in - some merely flashes of familiar landmarks and streetscapes which I may sometimes have only really seen and known through the fleeting appearances they would make as they whizzed past outside the car while on the way to some favourite haunts - now reduced firstly to piles of sad-looking, battered and pitiful piles of rubble, and eventually to just barren plots of nothingness with no hints to the past to be found, it has become a somewhat natural pastime to ponder about times past. To ponder and reflect on what used to be and wondering what the future may hold for them, while still desperately trying to still cling on to fond memories - trying to prevent them from being obliterated by the unforgiving, steady forward march of "progress".

When in good company, these ruminations can seem at times like a group therapy session, for "sufferers" of "shared history disease". What, with all the reliving and sharing of fond memories of the past (or, as some who have coined a typically saccharine term to add to their arsenal of buzzwords on their CV's, "cultural heritage") that only exposure to appropriate triggers will ignite. This can be hard for the young to understand. For instance: "Why are those oldies huddled over the kitchen table again, content to mutter amongst themselves for hours on end like about things from eons ago (while hugging mugs of hot drinks), when there's still so much exciting and unexplored stuff outside in this foreign location to see?" a young me once though during one of many such conversions held in the homes of distant relatives living overseas, and whom we were visiting during the course of that trip. After over two decades on this planet, I think I'm finally starting to get it - I think I am now finally starting to understand this desire, to catch up and "wind back the years".

Perhaps it's only those who have really lived for a while - enough to actually have some history to tell - will feel this way. Or perhaps, it's just that I've joined the "hot drink on a rainy afternoon appreciation club". After all, I probably owe the success of my honours project to a steaming hot cup of fish soup on a rainy Tuesday afternoon in June last year, when after being stuck for a few days trying to figure out where to start implementing a fisheye tree visualisation, that magical cup of soup sparked perhaps one of my most productive work sessions to date, and over the course of the next hour, I proceeded to nut out the core of the visualisation technique used to power the SCOFT widget I developed. Just sayin' ;)

Anyways, why these set of ramblings? Well, on a whim of lacking inspiration for where to have a bit of a walk on a nice Sunday morning before predicted stormy conditions rolled in later in the day, I ended up paying a visit back to my old primary school. I hadn't been back in over a decade - 12 years to be precise (i.e. the last time was also in the Year of the Snake). However, an number of events in recent years combined to slowly ignite a curiosity to make a return visit: 1) finally being armed with a decent DSLR (and a healthy photography habit),  2) the quakes and the damage left in the aftermath of those, and 3) most recently, a series of controversial plans by the government to close down a large number of schools in the region, by closing, merging, and bastardising the rest.

My former primary school was one of those on the chopping board. Oh the outrage! These announcements were a bombshell for practically everyone in Christchurch, and it should be no surprise that we were calling for heads to roll (public enemy number 1: "Hekiasaurus", the latest in a string of bumbling Nat-govt ministers to take the reigns of the poisoned education chalice that they just can't seem to keep their grubby mitts off; that and their simmering and thinly-masked privatisation agenda). Then again, considering that just a few years the Prime Minister happily let them shutter his own former primary school, then this probably shouldn't have been all too much of a surprise. Anyways, fortunately, the majority of these unpopular plans were eventually repealed for many schools, though a few unlucky ones will still end up being steamrollered. As for my primary school, although it has managed to avoid closure, the school buildings will still be in line for complete "redevelopment" (aka demolition) at some unmentioned time in the future. And while walking around yesterday, it was somewhat clear why this would have been such a tempting, tasty little morsel for the bureaucrats in Wellington, for my primary school occupied a really nice, spacious plot of prime real estate in a very nice area of the city...

Walking back through the school grounds brought back many wonderful memories and heaps more keep flooding back as I write this. (Note: Fittingly, I'm writing this using pencil and paper - as it's quite late, and I've already powered off my machines for the day - for the first time in years, especially for this much text and when not under intense exam time pressure to be doing that).

Among the thoughts which came up was a quote from Bill Luff, the guest speaker at one of the end of year prizegiving ceremonies I attended during my high school years seated in the orchestra pit in front of the stage full of staff and dignitaries. I'm not sure of his exact words anymore, but it was something like he couldn't look at those green uniforms again in the same way in the years after his time as a student at the school - perhaps it was with pride, or simply that knowing feeling you have when you realise that someone is "one of us". At the time, this statement really struck me, and in the years since I too graduated and moved on, I've started to see what he meant. Hehe. Those green uniforms. Hehehe.

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