A TALE INVOLVING OLD FRIENDS, A STRONG WIND AND A SLIGHT MISUNDERSTANDING
A few years back I made contact via the internet with an old college friend I hadn’t seen for some thirty- seven years. We arranged to meet at a pub half-way between our two homes. A neutral ground in case absence had not made the heart grow fonder. As I pulled into the car park I saw a man standing by his blue Volkswagen saloon who at first glance looked unnervingly like myself. Stout of statue, short of hair but unmistakeably my old housemate Ian. As I got out of the car he grinned and patted the top of his head acknowledging our mutual baldness.
Inside the pub, he produced some black and white photographs of two slim young men with long hair who were, apparently, us. Over that pub grub favourite, steak and ale pie, we each gave a brief resume of our lives so far. It seemed Ian had been far more diligent in keeping in touch with many of our fellow students and was able to give me chapter and verse on who had ended up where and who had married whom. Including the fact that he himself had married a girl who had been on my course and to whom I was to be reintroduced to later that afternoon.
In the years that have followed my wife, Sue and I have regularly met up with Ian and Chris for lunch dates and outings. The ladies generally exerting a moderating and calming influence since it turns out that Ian and I have become even more entrenched in our opposing political views. Though of course, much of our conversation nowadays includes regular, lengthy updates on our slowly declining health and the attendant problems.
Two years ago, we arranged to meet at Draycott Water for a pre- Christmas meal. After a longer than expected journey along the A45 between Coventry and Rugby Sue and I arrived with only minutes to spare before the appointed hour. Anxiously waiting for us in the car park was Ian in his trademark parka coat and Soviet-era styled headgear, waving his arms about like some agitated flight director on an aircraft carrier in choppy waters, directing us to an empty space. Safely parked we made our way to the café where Chris was waiting at our reserved table which had been colourfully decorated for the season.
As we all tucked into our starters Sue and I recounted a longish tale about our recently rehomed rescue cat Georgie and his urinary problems. To their credit, our companions managed to maintain an appearance of interest as we described in some detail every twist and turn in the story. They, quietly supping their Soup of the Day, we, too involved in the telling of the tale to make much impression on our salad and goat cheese tartlet. As the meal progressed I couldn’t help but notice that Ian was the only one not wearing a paper hat. Feeling that he had failed to enter in the spirit of the occasion I pretended to read a joke that I had supposedly found in my cracker. “What,” I said in what I thought was my best comedy manner, “Is the best thing about Brexit?” Before he had time to reply I delivered the none too original punch line;
“No Brussels!” It was no surprise that he remained completely unmoved by my feeble attempt at humour and thankfully the main course arrived and we all moved on!
After the meal, we decided to go for a walk. The main purpose being to demonstrate my recently acquired mobility scooter and hoist. As we walked along the side of the reservoir the “horrid” weather that Ian had predicted the night before hitting us with the full force of a howling gale. Battling to be heard against the elements Ian and I reminisced about the house we had shared back in Reading. A dilapidated terraced house with unsatisfactory plumbing.
“Do you remember the giant mole beneath the sink?” I thought I heard him say as the biting wind cut through our clothing. Rummaging through my mental archives, past the ever-thickening mists of time, I recalled that at the fag end of the Sixties some of us had, allegedly, dabbled in certain substances on a non-prescription basis. In truth though I had no recollection of giant moles, real or imaginary. The best I could do in the circumstance was to mutter in agreement while trying hard to conceal my concern at my old friend’s state of mental health.
I had read somewhere that it can be upsetting to challenge the faulty recall of those who are increasingly frail and confused. I had also read that it can be beneficial to them by assisting in their remembrance of past times. In that spirit I said; “Yes, I do, and I also remember that giant fungus in the kitchen.”
Ian looked down at me on as I sat on my scooter, “That’s what I meant,” he said with a puzzled expression. “Giant mould!”
Now it was my turn to feel the increasingly chill wind of old age and mental confusion and we walked on in silence.
Back in the car park, we exchanged the usual good wishes and a promise to meet again the New Year. Before finally leaving Ian clasped me to his chest with his arms around me in apparent friendship. Pressing his mouth close to my ear I expected him to wish me at the very least a fond farewell and safe journey. Instead to my surprise, he muttered;
“Next time Robert, turn your plucking hearing aid on!” At least I think that’s what he said but, in that wind, I couldn’t be too sure.