School friends celebrate 40 years after graduation
Kath Davis had never lived abroad by herself until 1979, when her mother dropped her off at college in England. She was 17.
Her dormitory mates at Chelsea College of Physical Education got her through her homesickness.
“It was great because everyone was very welcoming,” she said. “Everyone was also studying PE, and that was huge.”
They all stayed in touch after they graduated in 1982. Ms Davis has returned to England many times to see the friends she made in East Sussex; she has also hosted them here.
“I have done my bit for tourism,” she laughed.
Ms Davis and her friends decided to celebrate their sixtieth birthdays together, in Bermuda this year.
Six of her former classmates travelled to the island with their family and friends, staying at Cambridge Beach House in Sandys.
The historic house on Cambridge Road has eight bedrooms and beach access.
Here for two weeks, they kayaked, golfed and went to Cup Match.
“But for the most part we left the youngsters to go charging around the island,” said Debbie Murphy, who lives in Liverpool. “We just wanted to chill.”
A lot of time was spent on the porch of their rental home playing everything from dominoes to cards.
“There has been the chatter and banter and typical silliness of a bunch of 60-year-olds who have been friends for 43 years,” Ms Davis said.
Although she travelled the farthest to study many of the others had never been on their own away from home either.
“I had never even travelled to London before,” said Jan Brett of Liverpool. “So I grew up very quickly. I learnt how to wash and cook and how to iron.”
The others joked that with the bad transport connections in England at the time, Ms Davis got home faster than it took them to make the nine-hour rail journey to the North of England.
Elaine Shariff, from Yorkshire, remembered how everyone had trunks that had to be sent on ahead before college started.
“I had to bring lacrosse sticks and I wasn’t even sure what lacrosse was back then,” she said.
“Wacky” was Ms Brett’s first impression of Ms Davis.
“She had the most unusual combinations of food we had ever seen,” she said. “She had Pop-Tarts and Kool-Aid.”
Ms Brett was the first to visit Ms Davis in 1988.
“We would have come earlier, but we had to save hard,” she said. “We were young teachers that were not earning a lot of money at that time. Bermuda was brilliant. Then there was a big gap for us because we had children.”
Debbie Murphy from Merseyside resisted Ms Davis’ invitation for 15 years.
“I don’t do the sun; I prefer to ski,” she said. “I first came in August 1995, to maintain the friendship with Kath, because she kept visiting us in England.”
She brought her then young son Andrew and loved Bermuda immediately despite the visit from Hurricane Felix.
“It was quite scary. Everyone else was leaving the island, but we were told to just stay still. We were helping Kath to tape up the windows.
“We went to a hurricane party on someone’s dock and the humidity was unbelievable.
“All the electricity went out and we were listening to the radio. My son and I spent the night in the shower room.”
The Category 1 storm passed 73 miles to the southwest of Bermuda, but battered the island with high surf and wind gusts of up to 80mph. More than 20,000 people lost power.
Ms Murphy woke the next morning and was amazed to find Ms Davis calmly warming up the barbecue.
“They said, ‘But you’ve just had a hurricane!’” Ms Davis said. “I said, ‘But it is over now. So let’s have coffee and breakfast.’”
None of it soured Ms Murphy on Bermuda. She and her family have been back four times since.
Over the years Ms Davis’s nieces and nephews all became friends with her friends’ children.
Her niece Rachel Soares qualified as a teacher in 2020, and now works in Hampshire, England. Stuck there during the lockdowns of the pandemic she stayed with Ms Murphy.
The group chats over Zoom on Sunday evenings.
On this trip, Ms Murphy brought her son Andrew again, and his girlfriend Catherine Friel. It was her first time in Bermuda.
“I have been to Bali and Thailand and loads of places you would think were quite similar to Bermuda,” she said. “But this is by far my favourite place. The people are really friendly.
“Everyone says hi, good morning or good afternoon. Everyone helps you with your bags. The people are the key to any holiday destination. If they make you feel welcome, you will want to go back.”
She particularly loved paddle boarding in Ely’s Harbour.
“We saw lots of turtles, which was great,” Ms Friel said. “We saw loads of babies, then we saw three adults which was amazing. I think that was my highlight.”
The group returned to England on Friday. “But if you don’t go you can’t come back,” Ms Davis said. “We don’t say goodbye; we just say see you later.”