Every Friday and Saturday night, more than a thousand twentysomethings attend a club night in London known as School Disco. The dress code is strictly school uniform, the music 1980s disco. Smoking in the toilets is encouraged. The man who started it, ‘in a small back-street restaurant . . . back in September 1999’, Bobby Sanchez, explains its origins on the website, www.schooldisco.com (which also carries a list of school uniform shops):
It all started when I got fired from a top London club for playing Shakin’ Stevens . . . That night I drove to my old school in South London. Walking up to the school gates threw me into a flood of memories: playing football, school dinners, 100 lines, music period, Kum by Ya my Lord, assembly . . . Could I go back and not have to deal with mortgages, girlfriend problems, 9 to 5 etc. What was the one thing that I could do again that would make me taste, feel and relive my youth.
Nostalgia, in other words. Or an eye for the main chance. Either way, blunt nostalgia is the hard sell. One of the services the website offers is ‘Find a School Friend’ – at which point, jeers of ‘Copycat, copycat’ might be heard from FriendsReunited.co.uk at the back of the class, were it not too busy being one of the twenty most popular websites in the UK, following the widely reported complaints from the National Union of Head Teachers about it being used to abuse teachers. As a result, all potentially offending message boards have been temporarily removed. Let’s just hope FriendsReunited doesn’t win a PFI franchise to provide schools with toilet doors. Some of the abuse has been saved for the nation by the BBC, who quote on their website one or two offending sentences, detached, of course, from their targets: ‘He was so obviously an unstable psychopath with a penchant for sharp African collectables. He thrust one such towards a nostril once, after securing me first in the privacy of his form cupboard.’ The message boards that remain on FriendsReunited say things like: ‘Please don’t let this wonderful site be used for negative thinking’; ‘Do away with memory boards but not the register’; ‘We have all had bad experiences at school, but to keep the grudge going as adults makes you more of a child than you were back then. Don’t let your childish behaviour spoil it for those of us who use FR in the way it is meant to.’ Don’t interfere with the nostalgia, in other words, by talking about ‘the sadistic, perverted PE teachers who made you do press-ups in the nude and had a window looking straight into the boys’ showers’. The complaints from the NUHT, by sterilising the site, may help shore up FriendsReunited’s ethos – just so long as they don’t get it shut down. But if its days are numbered (as schooldays must be), what conclusion to the nostalgia trip could be more fitting, what final gesture more authentic, than the head teachers getting together to spoil everyone’s fun?
The bowdlerised site is, for the most part, disappointing – not that it would exactly be improved by a few paedophile jokes. You can’t look at it without registering, and they make it more tiresome than it’s worth not to leave your name on a school list. It isn’t, fortunately, obligatory to say a little bit about yourself. And most of the people who do say something say where they live, who they live with, what they do for a job. (The lists are arranged according to the year you left school, and the demographic curves for most secondary schools peak in the mid-1990s, indicating that the website is most popular with the age group for whom School Disco was devised.) But maybe the disappointment is part of the attraction: it’s reassuring to check up on people you haven’t seen for years and know they’re not doing anything much. It isn’t the case that they’re all at a party and you haven’t been invited; or, at any rate, the party isn’t here – it’s at School Disco, and everyone’s welcome.
Or, if School Disco isn’t your cup of orange squash, you can always go out for a ‘School Dinner’. These are particularly popular, apparently, as activities for stag and hen nights. Some of the events are even held in schools. There are inauthenticities, of course. For a start, the waiting staff – for a start, there are waiting staff – are all dressed as schoolchildren (or as Britney Spears’s dance troupe, depending on how you look at it). Instead of £1.35 the meal costs £35 (or £45 with unlimited booze). And you can’t take a packed lunch instead.