I had the weirdest back-to-school experience on Friday. I was in Hastings to write about the Playground Collective, four twenty-somethings who are touring a play called The Intricate Art of Actually Caring. They put on a matinee performance to an audience from two local high schools, and I watched it with the students.
The 'theatre' was actually the cavernous, chandeliered, really-fricking-cold assembly hall in the opera house. We had our school balls there in 1999 and 2000. It was odd being back there, and being so sober and old.
Seating was set up cabaret style. Before the students arrived I baggsed the best seat at the best table. As the students came in they sat at every table but mine, which felt exactly like being in high school. I practically begged a group of girls to shift tables.
They looked at each other and shrugged, and I thought they were staying put. Mortifying! Then, all of a sudden, they did a quick shuffle over to my table.
And I was surrounded by me, 12 years ago. Same uniform. Same tricks to make it not feel like a uniform: skirt rolled up at the waistband, shirt poking out from under the jersey, jersey cuffs pulled down over palms.
Except, these girls seemed much older than I think I did at that age. More sophisticated. Less like girls and more like young women.
They wore way more makeup than any of us did. Nail polish. Actual liquid eyeliner, mascara, foundation, blusher. Lipstick, as opposed to those strawberry-tinted Lip Smackers. We used to wear tinted moisturiser, I remember, but we definitely would have been told to wash our faces if we'd turned up wearing thick black eyeliner.
We thought we invented the messy bun but in comparison to these girls, we were ballerina-prim: they all had long hair in ponytails, with the hairties halfway down the tails, so that their hair fell in loops and sweeps against their faces. I really badly wanted to yank on the ends to tidy them up.
They all had phones, too. Smartphones, stashed in their kilt pockets. When I was at school we passed notes or whispered, and called home from the office phone - I don't think I got a cellphone until the first year of uni. I still don't have a smartphone.
They were perfectly lovely to me, these girls, and to the actors when the play was on. They clapped and laughed and watched attentively. No whispering, but maybe that's because they were silently texting under the table.
It was strange. I came away feeling old and unsophisticated - but really glad that I got through high school before the lipstick and cellphones came along. And I couldn't help but wonder: what will these girls see when they look at the next crop of students, 10 years from now?
What were you like in high school? Did you wear make-up? What do you think when you look at high school students now?
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