On Friendship

Stand By Me

Between my moments of lucid surreal stupidity and high octane frivolity I get periods of quiet reflectiveness. This is one of those times when, for no reason at all, I drift back to my childhood and memories of the friendships I forged.

They say we are social creatures, us humans. I think, to all intents and purposes, that is true for a great many of us. But I think it is also not true for far more of us than you might imagine. As we grow older, and the snow grows colder, my head grows bolder, like an old landrover. God knows where that last sentence came from but as it slowly appeared, my smile grew wider so I am going to leave it in, just sitting there, until it finds a better place in some book of mine years from now.

That’s the trouble with being a writer. Thoughts come and go and whizz around in the firmament of your head until they pop and beg to be given life on a page somewhere. In this case, on a blog that no bugger will ever read.

But, as usual, I digress. Let’s try and get back to the crux of the nib of the matter.

The first friend I ever remember having – apart from Benny Bunion who was a little lateral deviation of my big toe on my left foot that appeared when I was four – was Paul Barnes. I was five years old and had just started Brookfield Junior & Infant school in Cwmbran, Gwent and Paul, an irascible, mischevous and very naughty boy took a liking to me, and I a liking to him, and we became firm friends. Brookfield School was blessed with a huge playing field. I know everything seems bigger to you when you are a child anyway, but this field was massive.

Hang on a minute. Let me just check a thesaurus.

The field was a vast, gargantuan, monumental prairie at least three miles wide and the grass was forty fathoms deep. That’s how big it was. And if I want to measure grass by the fathom, I bloody will.

Paul and I would claim that field for our own, inventing games, mostly revolving around him being the leader of some gang and I was the follower. But that suited me. I was happy to follow.

“Riaz,” he said one day, looking up to me (at seven I was already well over five foot. Paul was about three foot two inches). “Have you seen Grease?”
“Grease?” I repeated blankly. I thought about the stuff that I saw my Bamp sometimes put on the tyre rims of his vauxhall viva. “A bit.”
“It’s a movie,” said Paul. There’s two gangs. The T-Birds and the Pink Ladies. They’re mods. If you want to stay my friend, you have to become a mod.”
“Okay,” I said happily and I became a mod.
Now let me explain something – Paul didn’t fully understand what a mod meant and neither did I. To ‘become’ something at seven years old simply meant one person asking the other and the other person agreeing. So for a few weeks I was a mod and the only way I could let other people know this was by telling them, as they’d never be able to guess just from looking at me.
“Grease is the word!” said Paul.

My book ‘My Life With Kate Bush’ goes further into my friendship with Paul. Those of you who have read that will know that our friendship ended purely due to the intervention of my over-protective mother and her concern that I was mixing with the wrong crowd.

So at eight years old I then became friends with Andrew Moreton. Andrew was a completely different kettle of fish to Paul. Not that I have ever owned a kettle of fish, or even two kettle’s of fish, as if I only had one, I wouldn’t be able to compare it to another one. But Andrew loved football and unlike Paul or myself, didn’t come from a single parent family. Andrew was quieter in his own little way and we complemented each other. For a brief time in my life I actually really really enjoyed playing football and Andrew taught me a lot in that respect. Back in the classroom, Andrew was less studious and lacked my level of concentration, and I would only be too happy to help him out with sums and reading. Reading in particular was not one of his strong points and even today, at 42 years old, I can remember us sitting together when we were 9, him resting his chin on my arm as I read out to him a particularly difficult passage from one of the Ladybird Key Word Learning Scheme books featuring the perfect sister and brother – Peter and Jane.
Peter and Jane

Andrew and I were best friends for a while. Having a best friend was very very important at 9. It made me feel safe and secure to know that I could ring him any time of the day or night and say “Was Stig of the Dump real?” or “Can you bring me over some crack cocaine?”.
Andrew did seem more popular to me too and exuded confidence. He never seemed shy at organising an impromptu football match or talking openly and assuredly about, well, any topic really. Even Kerplunk. I always was, and still am, more of a listener than a talker. I feel I can talk and hold my own in a conversation, but it’s not my most favourite thing in life to do. I’d rather listen, absorb, and then create a humorous parody of the conversation days, weeks or years later in a book…

Our teacher in the fourth year of Brookfield was Mr Graham Baldwin and Andrew and I used to share a big wooden table with Marcus Griffiths and David Powell. For most lessons we would sit there, the four of us, whispering nonsense stuff to each other during Maths, flicking bits of Blu Tack at each other during English.

These are just memory fragments. Little splinters of time that are stuck inside my head. They are always there and when I sit in the quiet, late in the evening as I am now, I can make those memories real and I am transported back to my days in Brookfield School.

To the time when I had the best friends that I ever had in life.