Forty years.

I left for my school reunion late in the afternoon on Saturday, driving up the Ipswich motorway as the sun fell. It was a drive I'd done plenty of times before, but not for a long while. Certainly not since before COVID shut everything down.

Because of COVID I was surprised by the bright and colourful lights of a Ferris wheel as I reached the edge of town; or what I call the edge of town. The racecourse at Bundamba.

The State Fair was here! And I didn't even know there was a State Fair. But there it was – sideshow alley, dozens of food stands, thousands of people making their way on foot through the gates. It was a hell of a surprise because I was pretty sure the Ekka had been cancelled this year thanks to Ms Rona. I drove past shaking my head a little and at the KFC I turned north towards Glebe Rd.

I grew up on Glebe Rd, and it amazes me 40 or 50 years later just how little has changed. On the rare occasions I get up there nowadays, I always make a point of driving that route, and I wonder whether it’ll still be the same a hundred years from now.

My childhood home, now renovated a couple of times over, was still there, but it looked as though the latest occupants were out for the night. Possibly riding the teacups at the State Fair. I pointed the car at the city centre and swept down through the parklands bordering the CBD to the east. There had been a lot more development and change in that part of town, although most of it was across the river, where I headed in error.

I'm not sure why I thought Brothers leagues club was over by the old railway workshops, but I did. I got lost in my own hometown. The club was about 10 klicks away, as I realised when I finally consulted Siri. She had the good grace not to give me too much grief about it.

I'd never been to Brothers and was a bit taken aback by the size of the place. I got there a little after seven and it was lit up like a small chunk of Las Vegas that had fallen through a wormhole and materialised in a paddock on the outskirts of Booval, the nearest suburb with which I was familiar.

I parked, scanned myself in at the door and fixed a face mask in place, but it was all pandemic theatre. Nobody else was wearing one, and certainly not in the function room where our party was kicking off. The space was roaring with voices and loud with music. Terrible music from the time that taste forgot. I recognised a few faces immediately, but I did wonder who all of these other wrinklies who'd wandered into our function might be.

They were us, of course.

Forty years is a hell of a long time and it’d had its way with us. Grey hair, big bellies, and a sobering memorial presentation to remember everyone who had passed away in the decades since school.

It's weird the way memory works. I saw Steven Clark and the first thing I thought of was the orange Cortina he used to drive and the super expensive stereo system he put into it. My old flatmate Pete Moorehouse (the tent-dwelling bank clerk in Felafel) was there, in excellent trim, but my first thought on seeing him was to recall the time he destroyed his beloved Sony Walkman smashing a broom handle into the floor by his bed to encourage the rutting couple in the apartment below us to shut the fuck up. That same thing happened again and again through the night. I would see somebody and some weird singular memory would come boiling up out of the vault to hover at their shoulder.

As I expected, the atmosphere was friendly and maybe a touch elegiac. Forty years will knock the bark off anyone and if I had to reach for one word to sum it all up, that word would be... smooth. Time had stripped us back and we were smooth now. The sharp edges and rough surfaces of 1981 all gone.

Often, I would find I recognised people by their smiles. Apparently, those do not change, or at least not if you are lucky. I don't know what sort of smile I had when I was 17, but I would like to think I’d held onto at least a ghost of it these many years later.

I had to drive back to Brisbane that same night, so I didn't drink much, just a couple of light beers and some fizzy water. I don't regret that. I texted my old mate Grant a couple of days later and he was on the second day of his hangover. I doubt he was suffering alone. I had another old mate, Phil, I had promised to get home. He looked like the evening and outside events – his father was not well – had caught up with him by about ten o’clock. As we made our goodbyes, a Conga line was starting up.

The music had not improved.

But it was still a good night.