During my time on this earth many people have drifted in and out of my life, some of whom I would have called ‘friends’ and some, I most definitely, would not.
Now at the age of seventy-five I find that they are all long gone and some I have completely forgotten, but not all, for I can still remember the girl I sat next to on my first day at school. Her name was Florence, we held hands, and I was just five years old.
I remember the boy next door, his name was Dennis. We played together in a quiet street where there were few vehicles. We crossed the road. Dennis stopped to pick up something. I continued, and I was the one who lived. I was seven at the time.
I can also recall most of the names of the scruffy kids in our ‘gang’ of eight and nine year olds, in the days when we roamed the ruins of the bombed buildings which were our playgrounds. There was Derek, Lenny, Graham, Dick and Christine, and she was the toughest out of all of us.
A few of us remained friends into our teenage years; but, at the age of eleven, most of us ended up in different schools where we mixed with a new crowd. I attended an all boys school where my closest friend was a boy named Roy. We had so little in common, that it is still a mystery to me as to how we became pals. He disappeared from my life shortly after we finished school.
Starting work at the age of sixteen brought a whole new group of people into my little world. They were called ‘foreigners’ ! .. There was Gerard, a Frenchman .. Alex, a Pole .. Freddie, a Belgian .. Dino, an Italian .. and quite a few others from around the world. They were a friendly bunch, and although they were a few years older than me we got along fine as we worked together at the head office of a large international travel agent. My first pint of bitter was bought for me by Freddie, who had been a jockey in a ‘previous life’.
After a couple of years working at the travel agents I was conscripted for national service in the Royal Air Force, where friendships came and went with the stroke of some officer’s pen, as my new found comrades were posted all over the world, and new kitbags appeared on their bunks, as Pete, Garry, Bernie and all the rest took their places. We were all great mates at the time, but I never kept in touch with any of them after I was ‘demobbed’.
At that time, my two best friends were both named Tom, and like me, they had recently returned to civilian life after doing their time in the military: but, unlike me, they had not had the good fortune to meet their future wife. They were great lads to be with, but my mind was elsewhere and we gradually saw less and less of each other. I later heard that one ‘Tom’ had died as a result of a disease which he had caught during his service in some ‘arsehole of the world’ jungle.
I won’t go into any more detail as I’ve had a long life and events tend to repeat themselves. We move home and lose our neighbours. We change jobs and say goodbye to workmates. We travel and meet those ‘ships that pass in the night’. Remember all those wonderful couples whom you met on some holiday beach or in some hotel bar, who promised to “keep in touch”, but never did ? Christmas cards stop arriving and we hear that some old colleague has ‘popped his clogs’, retired, or gone to join his family on the other side of the world.
Before I leave this long (and I hope not too boring) trip ‘down memory lane’ I must mention one man who sticks in my mind. I met him on a business trip to Spain back in the 1970’s, and we drove across Spain together. His name was Maurice and he was a Jew who loved Serrano ham and had a great sense of humour. We laughed a lot on that trip as we got to know each other: and when we reached England we shook hands and said goodbye. I never saw him again. It was only much later that I learned that, as a young child, he had survived the horrors of Auschwitz ! .. Which just goes to show how little we really know about those people who …
… drift in and out of our lives.