A few months ago, one of my closest friends from the last forty years intimated that he had an illness which was likely to claim his life. So we had a slightly subdued dinner in a local restaurant with those of us left from the mad ‘gang’ of twelve or so who had had such fun in the early seventies and onwards. We had gathered to say, without actually saying anything, ‘farewell old friend’. And on Tuesday at 5.30pm he departed this life. And I have to admit that I was unprepared for the deep sadness that overwhelmed both my wife and I. It led to discussions about the good old days, and the things that we as couples had got up to while masquerading as stalwarts of the society we lived in.
The truth was that we played hard and worked hard, and there were local professionals and some were doctors, some were airline pilots, some were University lecturers, others were high-flying businessmen, teachers, lawyers and all the great and good of our small society. The highlight of the year was of course Hogmanay where as many as fourteen of us met in the home of whoever had been silly enough to offer it for a sometimes 5 or 6 course meal, starting at 8 o’clock and finishing as the Scottish saying has it ‘at the bells’. Wonderful food, lots of imbibing of good wines, whiskies and in some cases whatever they could get their hands on. And then, led by a somewhat inebriated piper, we took to the streets and went from the house of one to the house of another, making a hell of a lot of noise. One particular year, we were dancing strip the willow in the street to the music of the bagpipes, when a police car screeched to a halt and two young policemen leapt out, at which point one of them said ‘oh good God Father did you not have more sense’, and proceeded to drive away. We went and apologised profusely to the lady who had complained. On another occasion, when in a spell of torrential rain, one of the company said ‘wait a minute, wait a minute, where is my wife?’ – I don’t know how many houses we had visited at that point, but we all looked at him and said ‘when did you last see her?’, and he said ’oh, wait a minute, I think she stopped to help someone push her car earlier’ and someone else said ‘oh yes, I gave her a bag of tulip bulbs’! Almost on cue, the door bell rang and on it being opened, in staggered a very very wet lady in a fur coat which she had slipped on earlier, and in which she now looked like a drowned rat! And then in one hand was the bottomless paper bag that had once been full of tulip bulbs! I have to say at the point that all our children were left in the care of grandmothers or, in one case, of live-in staff, to fear as our children told us what state the parents would be in the morning! This lasted for maybe eight years, and then as children grew up and people retired, some moved back to the country of their birth, we all settled down to a quieter life.
However, friendships formed at that time, and in the case of my recently departed friend, lasted a lifetime. And even as I strolled beside the river in our woods and unashamedly wiping away my tears, I began to think of some of the above evenings, and there came a sort of content that once, we are all at some time young and full of daftness.