Twelve months ago, on the day in between my final GCSE exam and the ‘prom’ ball, my classmates and I donned academic gowns and mortarboard caps to formally ‘graduate’ from Furze Platt. For many, it was an entirely trivial affair: the vast majority of the yeargroup returned in September, to join the Sixth Form. But for others, it marked their last hours on the school site, at the end of five happy years at the Senior School.
Since last June, time – as I’ve occasionally stopped to remark – has flown by with shocking speed. Now Head Boy, in a year’s time I myself will have left Furze Platt. Again. Except this time it’ll have been for good.
But today I was able to pause to watch as, a year on from the start of my own glorious summer of Year 11, my younger schoolmates took their turn at wearing the formalwear.
Today’s date had long been in my calendar for two reasons: firstly, it was to mark the end of my GCSE season, with this morning’s German Reading paper. But it was also the date scheduled for our formal farewell ceremony from Furze Platt, a university-style ‘graduation’ from compulsory education.
I’ll admit that even I – at first – felt a little silly parading into the Sports Hall to a soundtrack of recorded grand orchestral music, dressed head to toe in black mortarboard and gown. But quickly I realised that I was in fact proud; proud to have completed my exams, proud to have completed my fifth year at Furze Platt, and proud to be where I was at the time.
Music played at the event included sections of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (sadly, the original, non-lyricsised version – I was all up for bursting into Arthur Christopher Benson’s words).
Every May, Carters Steam Fair (which spends eight months a year on the road) comes home for a week in Maidenhead. Ever since I was born, I’ve watched in awe as a corner of Pinkneys Green becomes a funfair in the space of just five days, and then in that time again, it’s gone. But for many of my friends, it’s lost its appeal: perhaps revision for the impending exams is to blame for the lack of interest when I mentioned the fair earlier in the week, but I suspect more strongly that there’s less of a love for novelty and nostalgia in them than there is in me.
“It’s incredibly hard work, young man’s work. […] It’s 19th-century work in the 21st century. If it starts to rain, you can’t just go inside. You can be standing knee-deep in mud and you know it’s going to pour all weekend but you still have to open. It’s minimum wage, unless you’re a manager, and long hours. You’ll be up at eight, cleaning engines, putting water in engines, firing up engines. Or you’ll be putting prizes on stalls, getting candyfloss and the sweet stall ready. We’re usually at it until gone 11 at night. Everyone’s working. There are no passengers here.”
— Anna Carter, interview for a Telegraph Magazine feature, 12 May 2012
I attended briefly this afternoon and, as usual, the historic sound of fairground organs and the deafening noise of screaming teens on the Swingboats could be heard long before any of the trailers or vintage Scammel trucks could be seen. Immersing oneself into the heart of the site, and one could be anywhere in the country; it’s only the higher-than-usual number of patrons sitting outside at the Waggon & Horses that remind one of one’s true location.