...back in the days when men were boys and hair was Hair!
Got a text from my mate in Yorkshire. “Call me.”
We’d almost lost touch. Back in the mid-80s, we’d been fairly inseparable, in what today they’d call a ‘bromance’. Not easy to be a fella. Either we’ve lost touch with our feminine sides or when we display emotion, we’re prey to mockery. There was no ‘bromance’, no romance to our friendship. However it was full on, and it was great.
In 1986 I was living in Golders Green when I found out he was living in Kentish Town, just a few stops away on the other branch of the Northern Line.
So I nipped over to see him and we crossed the road from his house, sat in the concrete beer garden of the Duke of Gloucester pub and drank pints. It was one of those moments in life when you instantaneously know something good is happening. Your world isn’t rocked, yet there’s a gentle zephyr blowing through your soul, letting you feel that you and this person are going to get on really well.
He was an aspiring actor, his career leaps and bounds ahead of mine, doing world tours with both the English National Theatre and Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company. With the likes of Richard Briers and Emma Thompson playing the leads, it was a great achievement for a lad in his 20s. I was dead excited for him, and shamelessly ligged backstage with his famous actor pals.
Wherever we went, whatever we did, evenings seemed to end up back at his gaff, where he’d press the cafetière, I’d shuffle the cards, Miles Davis would blow his horn and we’d play poker through the early hours. We smoked and talked, enjoying the pure strong energy of youth before it was tempered by experience.
We were the Likely Lads. We aired our troubled angst, paraded our curious souls and vented our volatile spleens at the result of the photo finish of the 3.40 race at Ripon. Then we’d drink lots of beer and whisky (Scotch in those days it was: White Horse, as I recall) and eat curry.
Turned out that he wasn’t at the National Theatre to become an actor, but rather to meet his lovely wife, who was working there too. He was my best man in California and I then had the honour of being his best man back in Yorkshire.
I flew in with my suit intact after the 6,000 mile trip, but then discovered on his wedding morning that I had no shirt with me.
My neck has the girth of a 200 year-old Sequoia tree, so with much urgency and quite a bit of giggling, myself himself and the bride's father headed off at great speed along the M62 in search of a shirt shop, any shirt shop that went all the way to18 necks. Quickly, time’s running out!
Apart from the fact that I took a lot of well-earned flak from father and son alike, the frantic expedition proved a perfect distraction to the upcoming events of the day. We found a shirt, so I wasn’t half naked at his wedding ceremony.
Just one of a plethora of memories, that became such as we drifted apart. Life does that. He couldn’t make it when the Snapper and I got married and we haven’t been to Yorkshire.
Friendship can be a messy untidy affair, uncluttered by boundaries. Strewn all over my life lie the hurdles we crossed together. We were there for and with each other, although, to be honest, he had to be there a lot more for me than the other way round!
So we sort of gently imperceptibly lost touch. I sent a Christmas card each year, but that’s ‘cos I’m like that, and then I got this text. Call me. So I did, to find out he’s got leukaemia.
On reflection, I’ve decided that we assess and settle on the strength of words when we first hear them. Back in the 60s when you heard the word ‘leukaemia’, you thought somebody was going to die. In just the same way, in the 80s the word ‘chemotherapy’ carried such dark bombast that it spawned its own maxim:
‘If the cancer doesn’t kill you, the chemo will!’
Upon hearing my reaction down the phone, my mate reassured me that these days neither word carries the same vile cachet. They know so much more now. Apparently his particular type of leukaemia is eminently treatable, and now that he and his lovely missis are past the initial shock, they're doing well.
Telephones are great for blokes, ‘cos when we’re doing the man to man stuff we’re not really supposed to get all bleary teary. Admittedly, many of us lads these days are sensitive listeners and cooks, who hoover and shop, but hombre to hombre, the manhug still rules.
Nevertheless I was fighting back the tears when he told me how he’d had to ask the oncologist if he’d live to see his son grow up, but then laughed and felt relieved to hear that his numbers have dropped from hugely bad to really acceptable levels; that the chemo is working; that the worst he feels at the moment is a bit shitty, tired and grumpy after he’s stopped taking the pills that deal with the side-effects of the chemo.
Being a loving empathetic individual, I took the opportunity to ask him what the hell he was going on about, pointing out that he’s always been a bit shitty, tired and grumpy.
After all, that’s what friends are for, isn’t it?
So he’s doing well, and tomorrow I’m driving down to Cork and jumping on a plane to Manchester, where he’ll drive to meet me at the airport, where it’ll be bloomin’ brilliant to see him, as well as his lovely wife and son.
That’s the deal with friendship. You think you’ve lost touch, then life happens and you realise who matters.
I’m on my way mate.