BEWARE Friends Reunited. It should carry a Government health warning.

For the uninitiated, this is the highly-acclaimed, highly-successful website which puts people in touch with long lost school chums.

It's a fantastic idea for those moments of sad nostalgia when you try to remember the best days of your life and wonder whatever happened to wotsisname.

Unfortunately it is not living up to its name, more like Couples Disunited, because it is reuniting some lost loves and bowling over existing relationships.

A friend of mine (not an old school pal, I hasten to add) recently signed on to the Internet site and burned his fingers with an old flame. His wife never saw it coming, even though he started getting slim again, working out at the gym, buying a whole new wardrobe and finding lots of excuses for evenings out (he's not local so he'll never read this, by the way).

Sadly, another marital statistic.

There are stories up and down the country about similar affairs springing up through this virtual dating agency. It's a bit like a blind date, but you've already seen her through the rose-coloured spectacles of youth and memory, through which a gymslip takes on all the allure of a French maid's outfit.

Me, I'm just a lily-livered voyeur. I admit to taking a peep at my old school's section on Friends Reunited, I've perused the names and recalled some fond memories. But I've never had the courage to sign on to receive or send email to old classmates. Perhaps I'm afraid no one will remember me.

But then I would never go to a school reunion, either.

I do not want to see the ravages of time - the relentless gelder - mirrored in the once-fresh complexions of old school friends.

As for an annual reunion, it must be like counting the rings on the trunk of an old oak.

Just think, you walk into the reunion hall, nervously looking round to find a face you recognise, or one that recognises you without hair. Over there, the school heart throb who had the world at his feet is now paunchy, bald and out of work.

The school belle is a mum of six with a too-black rinse to cover the silver threads and a dress that fits like a sack of spuds.

The spotty school geek turns up in his Porsche and flash, white suit, a delicious creature on his arm and is something big in computers.

The old pals with whom you once shared your most intimate secrets struggle politely to find something to say and you can't wait to get safely back home to reality.

Since I left my home town I've kept tabs on my old school chums through newspaper reports. Sadly, one tried to commit suicide and was successful at the third attempt; another was sent to jail for doing rude things in a public lavatory with another man.

I did once see a smashing classmate, Ann Cotter, rattling a charity tin in Selby. When I introduced myself and asked if it really was her, she nodded, looked blankly at me then turned away. Serves me right.

Then there's Lindsay, my once true school love whose mum has kept me updated in chance meetings in Parliament Street.

Oh, fond memories. I'll stick to the faded, old school photograph. You know the one, it's two miles wide, contains ten thousand pupils easily recognisable under a spectron microscope, and with a back row so high the heads are brushing the clouds.

Updated: 08:56 Tuesday, March 11, 2003