Easter Holiday and reunions

May 11, 2011

Hey, I never said it was going to be chronological. Setting off on the evening of Maundy Thursday to celebrate a long history of traditions. I’m not sure where the compulsion to repeat comes from (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, perhaps), but it’s definately strong. And so, as the tradition befits, I set off back to St. Albans for the annual Good Good Friday Agreement. This is something we’ve done every Good Friday for the last nine years, when we did it accidentally. St. Albans is a beautiful place, but I don’t think I’d really want to live there any more. I spent the first nineteen years of my life in the fair cathedral city of STA, and I don’t think I could move back without shifting into some kind of creepy echo of my teenage self, but visiting it is always a rare and special delight. Each location is marked with memories, and sometimes you can turn a corner and be hit with nostalgia in the small of your back and have to stop for a moment to catch your breath. I’d really like to write about St. Albans, some kind of guide book mixed with a blend of personal mythology and misleading information, but it’s difficult to work out even how I’m going to start.

Anyway, the first ever Good Good Friday happened by chance, but now it’s a regular fixture. Essentially, it’s nothing too radical – me, along with about eleven or so people that I went to school with back in St. Albans, plus associated hangers on and fellow Albanians, meet up (supposedly at the strike of twelve from the Clock Tower, although it’s a vaguely relaxed start). A lot of the day involves going to the pub. Nicky P pointed out on Good Friday that both of our reunions happen to fall on religious holidays (we also see each other on Christmas Eve Eve), but that might be a mix of coincidence and convenience rather than adherence to the religious calendar.

I probably don’t need to go into too much detail about what we actually did on Good Good Friday – we went to various pubs, we strolled through St. Albans, we got drunk, and caught up on various aspects of what we’d been doing. The thing that really surprises me is that even though only two of us actually live in St. Albans, all twelve still manage to see each other with extraordinary regularity, at least twice a year, despite living as far afield as Frankfurt and Bradford. I’m impressed. Even though I can’t really remember the last hour and a half of the day very well, still. I’m impressed.

And the next morning, I set off with my family to Southwold. If it’s the ninth annual Good Good Friday, it’s at least my thirtieth visit to Southwold. Seriously. It sometimes alarms me how much of a creature of habit I am. If St. Albans is a cathedral city turned suburban commuter town, then Southwold is a pretty seaside town turned middle class weekend break venue. It’s where Gordon Brown (reluctantly) went on holiday in 2009. It’s full of gorse, pink houses, cannons, lighthouses, and (increasingly) shops that’ll sell you a £12 tub of olives. Every year, my immediate family and selected members of my extended family converge in Suffolk for a reunion that’s not incredibly different from the one described above. I think that’s what gives a bit of sparkle to the regularity, what lifts it above Larkin’s dreary “plugging at the four aways” (and Christmas at his sister’s house in Stoke). There’s a joyful circular pattern to it, even if each year you find that another bit of the sandstone cliffs has fallen into the sea, that the lovely little bookshop is now a twee craft emporium selling lighthouse crockery, that the wood-timbered local full of fishermen and florid landlord now has a marble bar, white walls and roars of polo-shirts from the Home Counties. Time passes. And yet in these home-made rituals, re-treading our footsteps again each year, the events become weighted and filled with meaning. And that’s something special. But you won’t catch me buying the £12 olives any time soon.

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