Saturday, 9 December 2017

Old friends

St Pancras train station really is the one you want to arrive at if you’re coming to London for the first time. It’s a Pandora’s Box of delights. When I arrived there yesterday from Sheffield, there was a great big spinning propellor hanging from the ceiling and a thirty-foot high Christmas tree covered in beautiful flowers which people were staring up at with great joy in their faces.

I went to sleep last night with the knowledge that Coventry had been awarded the next city of culture status, which I’m obviously rather pleased about. Harry Hill has tweeted (tongue-in-cheek) to say that the decision was obviously something to do with his fond micky-taking of Coventry Market: The Musical!

Joking aside, what’s clear to me is that the city has very bad PR. I was with a group of people last night who rolled their eyes to heaven at the thought of it becoming the city of culture. One of them, a travel writer, said “how am I going to be able to find 800 words to write about that dump?” And actually, a city which is misunderstood like that is a perfect choice for the award. Cities with fabulous tourism and cultural institutions don’t need the honour. The multicultural nature of Coventry coupled with its young population and the relative affordability of its housing means it’s a city with a great deal of cultural potential.

Nathan’s sister, Sam, is staying with us at the moment, but as soon as she arrived yesterday afternoon, I was pretty much out of the door to head into central London to meet a very old school friend, Angela, who, barring a quick hello at the Albert Hall on the premiere of my Nene composition, I haven’t seen for twenty five years. And as if this wasn’t enough, to make me feel really old, she revealed that her daughter was playing viola in the youth orchestra and that she has a son who is 21!

Speaking of the Albert Hall gig, I had the most charming card through the post today which came from the kids at Higham Ferrers junior school. There was a lovely picture of them all in their Nene T-shirts, sitting outside the Albert Hall and, inside, they’d all written messages calling me a legend and thanking me for writing a song they could sing at the Albert Hall. It was really very touching. Bizarrely, their teacher, whom I got chatting to during one of the rehearsals, comes from Northampton and went to Roade School, which is where Fiona went. A little bit of “oh do you know such and such” revealed that she was best friends with the older sister of a very close friend of mine from music school, and a few seconds later we realised we’d attended the Northampton balloon festival together when I was 17. To add to the rolling ball of coincidence, she said she thought she still had a photograph she’d taken that day, which she sent to me in the card. And there I was; mop of floppy curly hair, 90s style jacket with weirdly sloping shoulders, pyjamas instead of trousers, clutching a vintage 1960s camera. I look a lot older than 17. My friend looks like my son. I realised with horror that Angela, whom I met yesterday evening, would have expected me to still be the lad in that photo.

As it happened, when I arrived in the restaurant, I was greeted by another school friend, Adrian. We were firm friends, probably best friends, for a period in the late 80s and it was astounding to see him after all those years. My first comment was that seeing him was like seeing a ghost. I instantly backed up this somewhat odd remark by asking if he’d always spoken with such a strong Northamptonshire accent. I bet he wondered why he bothered to turn up!

We caught up on twenty five years the way that you’re forced to in these circumstances. Headlines only. Work. Kids. Relationship status. He works in health and safety for the London fire brigade. He told me harrowing stories about Grenfell.

Angela was on good form as well. The three of us pulled every name we could out of our memory banks and shared whatever knowledge we had. Some of the people were dead, including, I was sorry to hear, a lovely lass we used to know called Ruth Turner who played the clarinet. One of my former rugby team mates had flipped out and murdered his girlfriend. Some were divorced. Many were moving back to Rushden after roaming the world a little. We shared hazy memories. We talked about the shooting at my school. We ate lovely Mediterranean food. I realised that that I’d only kept in touch with two people from my school and that both of them were called Tammy.

A lovely, nostalgic evening.

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