Roger was my mate. His dad was a butcher. At school ,we were great friends. We had a deal going. He swapped me a bar six for half my sandwiches. Good business I thought, until lunchtime that is. But I loved my early morning sweet hit. In 1972, Roger left school and went to work for a bank. The following term, I did the same. I didn’t last the six-month probation while Roger went on to have a successful career. Then we just drifted apart. We met again six years later when I was working behind the bar of a local pub. Then, I realised our paths had gone in totally different directions. But we still had a great chat.
By this time, I had other mates. Some were crazy and some were safe. My mate Peter was mad. We had some very hair-raising moments. He married early. His wife Jean is delightful and equally mad. (In a lovely way.) We spent new year’s day of 1994 emptying the Victoria Hotel of Laphroaig whisky. Between the three of us, we had two bottles. The second bottle was on the house. So where would we be without good friends?
I’ve been lucky with friends. All over facebook we can find declarations about the value and nature of friendship. We don’t have to meet every day. We don’t have to talk all the time. We can just sit there in silence and still be friends. They are all true. Just sitting there with a beer or two is real therapy.
My father had no shortage of friends. He would go out for a pint every Friday night to meet them in a local club. Then one evening after I returned home from work, he was still indoors. I asked him why he hadn’t gone out. He sighed stoically and replied that the last of his friends had finally died.
It was very sad to learn that one of my best drinking pals died way too early. Bob was the purveyor of many quick quips. Every Christmas he would say “condiments of the season.” It still amuses me. We miss him. On Saturday he came round to my flat to help me brew the Young’s Bitter recipe. It was an entertaining morning. Of course, because he was a Yorkshire man, only he knew the way to do it and I was completely useless. That was fine because he gave me a lot of time. The trouble was that my parents were staying with me for a week. After I dropped them off at Victoria Coach Station. I drove back dreaming of a leisurely afternoon drinking my lovely beer. No. My father had finished it.
Since I moved to Sussex, I have made some very lovely friends. But why did I move here? Well in September of 1975 at University College Chester, I met a rather tall, outrageously bearded person called Steve. We hit it off. We used to do things like change the engine on my car, replace the rear springs on a Frog-eyed Sprite. That took two days to undo four very rusty bolts. We loved cars but we also loved music. We travelled around to concerts and shared holidays.
Once in France, in a beautiful village called Lagrasse, we found a cave co-op that served red wine from a petrol pub. We became concerned about our purple teeth. There is a lot of water under our bridge. Most of it has been brewed or distilled. But this giant of a man not only puts himself out to give me lifts and share fine whiskys. At five o’clock last Sunday morning, he turned at my window to help me up after a fall. I missed the spectacle of him climbing through the window because of my prostrate position. But he turned up and lifted me up. Now that is loyalty.
It’s not like the people in my arts class. I cannot criticise their intentions but it was almost competitive in who could help me the most. I was in a manual chair and they liked to push me. But if you are a wheelchair user you will know about people leaning on your chair. I didn’t have the heart to complain about it so I stopped going. I’m cool though.
Tomorrow, my mates Stash and Ian arrive for old friend therapy. Then there was my brother’s wedding when I met many old friends. This weekend, I’m back on Devil’s Island to see another old friend called Peter. He’s a bit mad too. And so are his beautiful family. Friends are good for the soul. Thank-you for reading.