It's been five years since I last turned the corner onto Maresfield Gardens in north London, crossed the black gates and entered South Hampstead High School.
Three weeks ago, a letter fell through my door inviting the class of 2009 to an evening of rekindling old friendships, reconnecting with past classmates and indulging in some free wine and canapés alongside half a decade's worth of gossip.
There was just one problem and it wasn't the stale spring rolls. There was a sincere lack of gossip.
Facebook ruined my school reunion. I already knew that the podgy, pimpled and gawky girl from Year 9 has transformed into an attractive busty blonde who no longer sits alone in the library (every single lunch break) but Vogue House where she has landed that dream job.
And what about that girl I always despised? The designer-clad bully who thought she was better than everyone else, threw all the parties, messed around with all the boys, sucked up to all the teachers, and of course was always chosen for the netball "A" team.
I wasn't the slightest bit anxious upon her arrival. Nor could I even smile to myself as she plodded into the room four stone heavier, with greasy hair, no university qualifications (too much partying, not enough studying) and a bum for a boyfriend. I'd already learned all of these remarkable facts through Facebook - a tragic downfall documented and broadcasted for the world to see.
Well-earned BA and MA degrees; years spent studying abroad in South America; different hair colours; extravagant tattoos; job offers; new sexual orientations; engagements; eating disorders; smoking and drinking habits - all of this was information I'd previously discovered and not just because I am a nosy journalist. After all, every time my Facebook news feed is refreshed I attend a virtual school reunion.
Seeing my old classmates was, err, boring. Where's the excitement in seeing someone whose breakfast - a skinny lemon and poppy seed muffin from Starbucks - you saw earlier that very day? Don't get me wrong, I love getting together with my friends and am still very close with a sufficient proportion of the year. But isn't the point of a reunion to reminisce and learn new things? To be impressed, inspired and surprised by all the mystifying changes which have occurred since the days of navy-blue skirts and yellow shirts?
Fifty per cent of my year group didn't even bother showing up, their curiosity supressed, I suppose, by the on-going social media frenzy. However those who chose to turn up soon began to question why they even bothered (especially since a Facebook album displaying the event would indubitably be uploaded within 24 hours).
The prankster who decided it would be funny to roll a jacket up into a ball and stuff it under her jumper to feign a baby bump was particularly bitter. No one whispered behind canapé napkins or stared at her stomach uncomfortably. No one was fooled - "Come on, we know you aren't pregnant, there's a photo of you this morning on Facebook in a crop top at the gym," she was told.
But there is a silver lining. When you are so up to date with everybody's lives, the dreaded small talk is minimal. I already knew the girl I hadn't seen in years has graduated from Cambridge and is now pursuing a PHD in natural sciences. We could cut straight to the chase - are you looking forward to studying volcanic eruptions in Hawaii as your Facebook status last month informed me?
And, of course, nowadays you are entitled to know such intimate details about that girl you once knew. Having a stalker-like insight into somebody's new relationship is socially acceptable when it has been plastered all over the web.
Without a doubt, seeing my teachers was the absolute highlight of the evening. My favourite English teacher whose hair had slightly greyed and whose voice I had not heard in many years was a very bizarre, nostalgic sensation. The same goes for the chemistry teacher, now retired and stumbling on crutches, who pushed me to pursue science when I easily would have given it up, back in the day when the periodic table was an obstacle to socialising.
It was they who gave me that eerie feeling of the passing of time, unlike my peers whose aging process - from young 18-year-old sixth formers to (supposedly) mature 23-year-old graduates - has gone unnoticed, as though we still walk through the corridors to class together on a daily basis.
Only the few "alternative" people who refuse to get a Facebook account got the response you'd expect at a reunion: people were genuinely interested in hearing their stories. Because it was genuinely the first time.
Sometimes that which is left undocumented is most special - the canteen that still smells the same, the maths teacher you forgot existed who still tells the same jokes five years on. Seeing the innocent goody goody in the flesh, so many years later, with piercings dotted all over her face, is a shameful anti-climax when photos of her bull nose ring pop up on your computer screen every other day.
Back in the day
Visiting school five years laterSuggest a correction