Now and Then, and then again…

Words, music, pictures, and more words

David Dimbleby and I

No, we haven’t met, but in terms of revered and markedly successful British families of my lifetime, the Dimblebys are right up there. Father Richard was the most famous TV broadcaster of his generation (1950s-mid 1960s), two of his sons, David and Jonathan, have made their careers in journalism and broadcasting likewise, David’s first wife Josceline is a top cookery writer, and one of their sons, Henry, is a chef and co-founded the fast food chain, Leon.

David, born in 1938 and 84 years old as I write this, has spent a professional lifetime in front of the TV cameras and most recently has fronted a series about the “Days That Shook the BBC”, together with presenting part of HM Queen Elizabeth’s funeral proceedings. Quite an accolade when you keep getting the calls at the wrong side of 80. He benefits from good health and retains his pin-sharp and forensic view on life – an example to us all. He is admired by all for his professionalism and objectivity.

He was interviewed for the Times by Decca Aitkenhead at the beginning of October 2022* – – and I was delighted and surprised to find a kindred spirit in a number of things that he said, apart from the bit about resorting to roll-ups in later life.

Following Dad’s Footsteps – I too followed my Dad into the same company – ‘it seemed the natural thing to do’ – with all of the benefits and disadvantages that this brings

No Social Life (and not because he’s so busy). In spite of knowing a lot of people, there are only a very few he could count as real friends. Yes, that’s me too – but it’s not an issue for either of us, it’s just how it is.

A Quiet Family Life. I enjoy the company of all parts of my greater family, and doing this quietly – walking, talking, eating etc. And we don’t need to see each other every week either….

Sitting on the Outside. Particularly in relation to family gatherings, I like looking and listening without feeling the need to play Father of the Clan. I’m more inclined to have one-on-one chats with those on the edge of the jollity – that appeals to me so much more

Voting. He claims to have voted for the three main political parties at different times. Same here – when their policies chimed with my own needs and aspirations

Deference. He doesn’t like or see the need for bowing and scraping when confronted by famous people/Royalty etc, or in fact treating anyone any differently to anyone else. He will have had a thousand percent more opportunities to meet the great and the good than I, but it’s quite obvious in his demeanour on TV, that he isn’t cowed by anyone. Good for him. I have met many captains of industry over the years, and from my experience they delight in being normal and not standing on ceremony. I remember talking football over lunch with legendary conductor David Temple MBE. He thought this brilliant, as so often his usual lunchtime experiences seemed to revolve around choral music.

The lives of David Dimbleby and I have followed very different courses, but if I reach 84 years old with his recall, intelligence, wit and demeanour, I shall be a very happy man.

David Dimbleby – c/o

Brain Fart

This story starts in Scarborough at the end of April 2016, when wife Sue had decided to enter the Yorkshire Sportive, a gruelling 50 miles bike ride around the hills and yet more hills of that part of North Yorkshire. I opted not to enter for the sake of my health and sanity, and walked the town area while Sue cycled.

The evening before the event, we walked out from our retro 1950s hotel to find food. As we were where we were, fish and chips was the chosen fare, and we found a suitably fine local restaurant which served the delicacy. Once seated, we were presented with two menus – one a little pricier and more extensive than the other. Fish and chips were on both.

A young lady came to take our order, and I asked quite naturally what the difference was between the fish and chips on one menu compared with the same offering on the other. She looked somewhat puzzled by the question, or at least that was what I thought. No, she was thinking, and a little later her words of explanation tumbled out in a rush once she had them all lined up in her head. “The fish and chips on the cheaper menu is…less more”. She knew what she wanted to say but the correct words did not align themselves in her head, and ‘less more’ came out. I asked if ‘less more’ meant ‘smaller’, and she looked relieved and she quickly agreed with me – “yes, that’s right, smaller…”. Much smiling and nodding of heads ensued.

The reason I mention this little episode is not to make fun of the young lady in question, but more as an example of the tricks the brain can play sometimes. We had another last week, which made us shriek with laughter.

We had been asked to stay with eldest son, and mind his six and nearly two year olds for a week, whilst his wife went to Canada for the wedding of a lifetime best friend. This would be hard work for two ‘older’ people, even though we know the children in question to be as settled and compliant as one could reasonably expect in children of that age. And so it proved. It was full on, but we made it through to the end of the week, by which time Mum had returned to the nest.

Whilst eating our (entirely coincidental) fish and chip supper, Mum remarked that the 6 year old had dirty marks on her face. Wife Sue came up with the answer straight away, as she knew exactly why the marks were there (she had been drawing with multi-coloured pens). Alas, her brain played a similar trick to that which afflicted the young lady in Scarborough. The ‘drawing’ word would not come, and ‘doing pen’ came out instead, which provoked instant merriment – and we’ll make sure that it won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Wife Sue is always quick-witted and never stuck for a word, but in a way, it’s quite a relief (for me, who is more often stuck for les mots justes) to know that no-one is infallible.

Isolated moments of brain fart (undoubtedly as a result of over-tiredness) can result in moments of mirth to no-one’s disadvantage. Long live slip ups, we are human after all!!

‘And I Have Never Met the Queen…’

As Ray Davies** sang in his 1967 song David Watts, I too never met the Queen during her long and glorious reign, but I did meet Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in unusual circumstances, during my teens.

I can, though, honourably own up to a very personal smile and wave from the Queen, in the early 1970s. I had heard that she was visiting Sheffield, and would be arriving by train into the city’s entirely unmemorable railway station – what we would have given for a Bristol Temple Meads, or a Darlington even. I found a decent crowd outside together with a Royal limousine at the ready. I positioned myself somewhat away from the crowd on a traffic island, having guessed the side on which she would be sitting. I was right. The limo purred away towards the city centre, right past where I was standing on my own. This coincided with Her Majesty looking at me four-square in the face, with her radiant smile and a wave for me and me alone. Lovely….

Meeting the Queen Mother was a different experience, if only because I wasn’t expecting it. Yes, I knew that both she and Sir Harold Macmillan (former Prime Minister) were present for our school centenary celebrations, but I wasn’t one of the great and good who were lined up to shake the Royal hand. My duty for the day was to play soporific music under an awning – our Combined Cadet Force Band in action!

I played a Tenor Cor, a brass horn instrument. Why was I in the Band? Playing soldiers was never really my thing, especially following the moment I had my top two front-teeth knocked out by a probing rifle whilst hiding in a bush during a night exercise. Apart from that, sitting in a warm music rehearsal room along with 20+ other musicianly skivers was far preferable to square-bashing. We still had to keep our kit clean, but that was a small price to pay.

Back to that summer’s day in 1965, and our afternoon medley was progressing apace, with Henry Mancini’s wonderful Moon River being one of the easiest (and more enjoyable) pieces to play. Not too many note changes, just keep up the rhythm and feeling, so I closed my eyes and lived the moment. Knowing we were approaching the final notes of the piece, I opened my eyes, and what to my amazement should confront me, but the Queen Mother standing the far side of my music stand with a regally wry half smile on her face. Macmillan’s drooping eyelids and moustache did not betray any particular sentiment, one way or the other. My memory doesn’t tell me that I let the band down at that moment by issuing forth a bum note, but I may have stopped blowing until she was past me to smile wryly at some of my fellow bandsmen (for it was an all male ensemble).

It has been wonderful to hear in these days since Queen Elizabeth’s death, that for all the pomp and seriousness of their everyday responsibilities, both the Queen and her mother had well-developed senses of humour in more private – and even some public – moments.

Our kingdom would not be as it is without their good works and service, and for certain, Elizabeth’s quietly guiding hand and influence behind the scenes, will be sorely missed. This is not a monarchist writing, just one Englishman who can see something of what they have brought to our everyday lives. There have been some marvellous tributes written and spoken from across the world. One amazing life….

** Ray Davies did meet the Queen in 2004 when being invested with his CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) medal. She said ‘So many songs’ to him at the time. Sir Ray Davies was knighted in the New Year Honours List in 2017 for services to the arts. The then Prince Charles officiated at the ceremony in Buckingham Palace.


A visit to the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham, brought this to mind. We had booked a time slot which gave me enough time to stand outside Specsavers on the meandering Main Street of the town, and have a photo taken, as a futile reminder of the Dominic Cummings ‘affair’ – just one of many which have damned the Conservative government since lockdown began.

For those innocent of the ‘affair’, this senior adviser to Prime Minister Johnson broke lockdown rules by driving the near 300 miles from London to his parents’ home near Durham. He misjudged the wakefulness of the local populace, who spotted and photographed him in Barnard Castle, and tried to cover his tracks by saying that he had visited the town to ‘test his eyesight’ before driving back to London. Why couldn’t his wife have driven? A national disgrace which piled more trouble on the Government. Mostly everyone else in the country was doing their bit, so why couldn’t he??

The Bowes Museum is most famous for its Silver Swan automaton (it’s brilliant, look to up if you don’t know of it), made even more brilliant by the fact that it was made in the late 18th century. If it had been made last year, the design and manufacturing team would be nominated for prizes.

Its walls are also lined with many excellent paintings from across the ages to the present day. All very rewarding to view and marvel at the artists’ skill, care, love and attention. My efforts at painting fall far short of these, even though I do have to say that the sky which I painted recently over the Glenelg Jetty, just outside Adelaide, is as near to perfection as I am likely to achieve.

Nevertheless, I didn’t find these consummate works of art to be affecting. In other words, they didn’t make me well up inside or out. My heart didn’t beat faster and no tears sprung to my eyes. There was no real sense of wonder and ecstasy, just admiration.

So, you’ll be thinking that the broad world of physical art just doesn’t hit my personal spot, and you’ll be right – enjoyment and admiration, yes, but no more.

By a strange and unconnected coincidence, which walking through one of the galleries, Elgar’s Nimrod, from his orchestral suite “Variations on a Theme – Enigma”, was playing quietly through the tannoy system. I made a sharp intake of breath and the telltale signs of being truly affected by something, made themselves instantly known. Straight to the heart, in the same way that the smell of linseed oil on cricket bats coupled with new mown grass has the same effect. Paintings or sculpture can never do that for me.

I can even remember back in my youth, when the Kinks brought out a new single or album, what sheer unalloyed joy I felt in my heart. And these new releases fortunately always appeared on the promised dates, and I arrived at either Oxley’s in Great Malvern or Wilson Peck’s in Sheffield to collect my trophies. Joys that I was fortunate to find in my life.

So, it’s music that does it for me mainly. No other art form comes anywhere near, nor, I suppose, ever will.

Whilst also being able to knock out a few chords and write a few decent songs, the experience of singing in a choir can have the same effect, whilst being aware that emotions have to be kept in check whilst singing – I have been very near the edge sometimes singing Bass One with up to seven other harmony lines on pieces such as Eric Whitacre’s Sleep, or Morton Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, and perhaps most memorably Gustav Holst’s Nunc Dimittis in a sparsely filled Cathédrale de Saint-Denis in Paris, when the singing stops just before the ‘Gloria Patri’, and also at the very end. The layered sound rang and rang around the vast space – maybe the sound of Heaven to many…

Quotes To Live and Laugh By

One major employer of my youth provided a ‘My Plan’ diary each year – a rather nice, leather-bound one – in which you could keep track of your appointments, meetings and generally important aspects of your work life. Each day had its quotation to inspire your activity, such as ‘Rifleshot, not buckshot‘, or ‘By the inch it’s a cinch, by the yard it’s hard’. These ought to be self-explanatory, and in the context of inspiring useful activity, they have their place.

What effect these everyday words of wisdom had on me in my tender 20s, is difficult to say, but what I can admit to, is a dip in my personal successes and fortunes at one particular point, leading me to wonder if I was cut out for what I was doing. And then, there was a company restructuring, and our sales operation in Sheffield came under the management of someone based in Leicester – someone who was universally admired for getting the best out of his staff. Perhaps there was some light….

At the first general meeting he took, he kept his words to a minimum (brownie point for that), but one thing he said then, stuck with me throughout my business career, and my life in general. 1975/76 was a time when Britain was on its knees with social conflict, economic decline, the 3-day week etc, which conversely meant that businesses were looking to save money by being more efficient, which is where my company’s products came in. This man named Ken stood there and said ‘If ever there was a year to shine, this is it.’

On the face of it, and taking into account the situation in the country at that time, this could be called crass or over-optimistic. But actually, it was a stroke of genius, as whilst it was said in public forum to c100 people, I certainly felt that he was talking to me on my own. And I thought ‘why not? – why shouldn’t I shine’. And if I put the rifleshot and inch techniques in there too, perhaps this is how to do it. It was a small thing to say, but real inspiring leadership in my book – and I then proceeded to have my best year with that company to the huge satisfaction of all. And I still look back and tell myself that this is where it all started, where I knew that no-one else could do it for me – it was down to me to get out there and make a name for myself.

There are many other quotes, proverbs and truisms that have stuck with me over the years – I just wish I could have come up with some of them myself, but I feel that I should share a few with you, to inspire and to amuse. The first ones especially, can be applied to many facets of life.

There are risks and costs to any programme of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction. J F Kennedy

I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it. Cyrus S. Ching (American industrialist)

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. André Gide

Little wit in the head makes much work for the feet. Anon

Success is that old A-B-C – Ability, Breaks and Courage Charles Luckman

Sleep, riches and health, to be truly enjoyed, must be interrupted Jean Paul Richter

Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great. Nicolo Machiavelli


I wish I’d been there when you were alive, Daddy. One of my daughters when young, looking at photos of me when I was the same age as her

I used to think I was indecisive, but now I’m not so sure. A comedian

You’ve been cursed with people’s high expectations. It means also they are easily disappointed. Vaclav Havel on Barak Obama

Naked ambition tempered by arrogance. Another doctor describing Benton on the TV series ER

Don’t worry, a couple of days on your feet and we’ll have you back in bed in no time. Joan Collin’s doctor when she fell ill

The sort of guy who couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if you put the instructions on the sole. Garrison Keillor story subject

The Green Belt is a great achievement, and the Government are going to build on it. John Prescott

How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world. Shakespeare from Merchant of Venice

…the easy confidence of someone who’s never been pressed too hard by life. Obama on David Cameron

A film you shouldn’t attempt to watch unless you’ve seen it at least once. Roger Ebert on Synecdoche

In my book, such good news calls for another slice of Madeira Cake. Nurse Crane on TV’s Call the Midwife

We got our exercise lowering coffins out of upstairs windows….It was clogs, clogs on cobbles. You could hardly hear yourself coughing up blood. Victoria Wood reminiscing about the old days

An expression somewhere between winsome despair and trapped wind. Anon

Keep your face always toward the sun and the shadows will fall behind you. Walt Whitman

Being happy, smiling a lot, red wine and keeping fit with yoga. Recipe for a happy life from Eileen Ash, former England cricketer who died in 2021, aged 110

‘If You’re Thinking of Arranging a Funeral….’

Not the most encouraging words to hear on the radio two days after Christmas Day, but, upon further listening, I found that it was an advert for insurance to cover funeral-type expenses. Which got me thinking….

Some people regard death as a taboo and morbid subject, and I find that understandable, but it’s going to happen, and maybe when we’re least expecting it, so it may just be a good idea to make some preparations, however discreetly you choose to do this.

As it happens, I already have a policy which will will cover my modest funeral requirements, and hopefully leave enough over for those near and dear to have a wake, and play some good music – live and recorded. I wish I could be there!!

A natural extension of funeral requirements is what one leaves behind at the specific moment – stuff, mostly of no consequence to those picking up the pieces and much of it bound for charity shops or the council bonfire, with hopefully precious little to go to landfill. The significant memories such as photographs, paintings, scripts, recordings etc will have homes amongst the family, and should serve as a proper reminder of the person. And I still plan additions to this little lot 🙂 ….

However, it’s the other ‘stuff’ that could be the nightmare to those left behind. You may even have direct experience of this yourself – I know I have, trying to sort a close relation’s very full room’s worth of paperwork with my wife and her sister. Not something I would recommend to anyone, especially someone with a streak of organisational ability, which I already have.

I am conscious that the death of a family member is more often that not a traumatic affair, especially in those weeks immediately after the event when one can find it difficult to act and think straight. And, of course, it’s in these very weeks that you need clarity of mind and purpose whilst ‘sorting out the deceased’s affairs’. Where to start?

In the case of Sue and I, we have been forward-thinking enough to give an organisational leg-up to those who are responsible for the sorting, .

And before I describe this, I have been in the habit of asking those I know well enough, what plans they have made. These people are invariably well-educated, successful in their own fields, rational, sensible, and good to have as friends. My question is more often than not by a blank expression or a distinct lack of enthusiasm for discussing the matter further – my solicitor has a copy of my Will…..there’s a file at home which some papers in…..I don’t want to think about it. So generally not uber-helpful to those following on behind.

Yes, we have a Will, and we have a box(es) of papers sitting on a shelf in the home office, and these will undoubtedly help… a point.

But what we do have is a simple document entitled Important Things To Know. The only mountain to climb was pulling all the Important Things together in the first place. Once done, it becomes a simple maintenance issue, being updated whenever there is a significant change/addition. Taken in isolation, it is a wonderfully cathartic exercise, and a significant load off our backs as the years go by. Our children know that there is a printed copy sitting in a particular place that they can refer to come the day – or actually at any time. We have nothing to hide.

To give you a flavour of the contents of Important Things To Know:-

LEGAL – Solicitor’s and Executors’ contact details, whereabouts of Will document, Accountant’s contact details. Also HMGov contact points and other free online services if needed for advisory reasons

FINANCE – all bank/investment account numbers and locations, insurance policies, pension arrangements and providers, debit/credit cards, finance agreements, investments/savings etc We don’t include balances specifically, as these change day-to-day

HOUSEHOLD – Property value and status, Buildings/Contents/Car insurances inc whereabouts of documents and expiry dates, Gas/Electricity suppliers, Phone contracts etc

FUNERAL INSTRUCTIONS – these may be very specific, and the final wishes are important

SCHEDULE OF VALUABLES – we have a list of paintings, as an example

PASSWORDS/CODES – access to much of the above may only be obtained simply by knowing these. We have a separate, secure document with all of these (hopefully up-to-date!). This will save much heartache

You will get the idea from the above listing – yes, there is work involved in pulling it all together, but the benefits of doing so are manifold, both for the now and for the future.

Death is hard – make it softer….

Lockdown Therapy

I know that everyone has been affected differently by the various lockdowns imposed on the UK over the last 15 months, but I can only tell my own story, and how I have worked my way through to the Prime Minister’s ‘irreversible’ ‘freedom day’ in July 2021.

In the UK, the first COVID-19 lockdown commenced in March 2020, when it was announced that people would only be allowed (lest we forget) to leave their homes for limited reasons, including food shopping, exercise once per day, medical need and travelling for work when absolutely necessary. All shops selling non-essential goods are told to close, and gatherings of more than two people in public are banned.

This meant a complete change of lifestyle for literally everyone in the country – young, old, married, living alone, working or not. As an individual living with one other and not working, how would this affect me? By nature, I’m not dependent upon gratification from others, and enjoy my own skin – both of which I knew would help me through whatever lockdown had in store. I have my friends but I’m not reliant upon groups or societies to justify my being.

I am lucky, I have the room to spread out in a large old house, and I have access to areas of natural beauty for my daily exercise, whether walking or cycling. I was always surprised to see how few others seemed to take up the opportunity, otherwise not easily open to them, to take daily exercise. I rarely met many others out and about even when we had all that sunny weather in spring and early summer 2020. It even made me wonder if I was abiding by the spirit of lockdown rules – but I was.

So, what to do and how to fill the waking hours. It never ended up being an issue, whilst, not having to home educate or work from home, it became a simple matter of choice as to how best to spend my time, and keeping myself engaged physically and mentally. It never seemed a hardship, and we never went without what was needed to sustain ourselves, and acquire goods, whether online or in the limited range of shops which were left open.


I never had a great love affair with decorating – and certainly not with wallpapering – but, much in the same way with gardening, I did it because it was there to be done, and it was a diversion from normal day-to-day activities. The non-living areas of our 3 storey house were in need of some TLC, so I started at the top and worked my way down from the top landing to the front door – a long journey, and I managed every high place without resorting to scaffolding, with judicious use of ladders and brush/roller extensions. It’s naturally a dark house, so needed a good lightening up. Parchment was chosen as the single emulsion paint shade. It’s a warm off-white and suits admirably, and worked well with the Oxford Blue gloss for the dado rails and Brilliant White for the skirtings. It took a few weeks, with some walls needing multiple coats – and the weather outside was good, so I made sure I breathed fresh air as well as paint fumes. I ordered from Wickes online and collected from my nearest store without fuss.


Prior to this, I can’t remember when I last did one. I found a space which would take the size of picture with all pieces surrounding it. I found that 500 pieces was the optimum for me. I tried larger ones (1000+ pieces) but it was too much for my brain to take in happily. Some I bought from online catalogues, and some I had made from favourite photographs. I rattled off 24 such puzzles in short shrift. Some have since been donated to charity, but at least I took a photo of each one.


(The artistic type). Having rollered my way to decorating success, I felt something a little more delicate was required. But I’m not a natural artist, so thought I’d have a go at Painting By Numbers – rightly popular across the world. Some would say that it’s cheating and not real painting. It’s no more cheating than knitting from a pattern, or doing anything from a set of instructions, and at least with PBN, it’s only a guide, and you can change the template to better effect, colours or drama – which I found that I could do with confidence on numerous occasions. I have completed 14 so far – I’ve left this for the time being but will undoubtedly return to it at some point. As mentioned in a previous post, I have dabbled with abstract art but haven’t yet found the set of circumstances which fit the required mindset.


I started this series of short vignettes from my life experience just prior to lockdown #1, and this post is the 40th in the series. It’s classic lockdown therapy, with the bonus of giving me the chance to reflect.

I have always written – gaining school successes at A level in English and Use of English (an ‘O/A’, I think this was) – and at work continuously, writing business proposals, strategy documents etc. There’s a real delight in testing my mind to find exactly the right words, and, in my case, generally keeping it light and interesting for my dear readers. AND, when that day comes when I am here no longer, my words, paintings and my music album The Other End of the Wheel will help serve as a permanent reminder of who I was, and what made me tick.

I’ve also been lucky to share lockdowns with Sue, who has helped immeasurably in giving me space and keeping us rolling along in the right direction over the months. It seems to have been quite easy in so many ways, as we don’t set high targets for ourselves, and we have tried to treat what life has thrown at us recently, as a long, slightly hilly bike ride, with a welcoming pub somewhere down the lane ahead.

Painting – ‘Keeping Lookout

JIGSAW – from photograph of Reko Rennie’s original painting as seen in Adelaide, ‘a statement that we as Aboriginal people have always been here and always will be’.

The Heat

I live one mile from the cooling North Sea, as the gulls – currently bringing up their young between my uppermost chimney pots – fly. My part of the North East is not prone to the absurdly high temperatures suffered by some of the rest of the UK, and southern England in particular. What a blessing!

Rarely does the thermometer reach 80F, but on Saturday 17 July 2021, the mercury rose to 83F outside our back door. Not ridiculously high, but unusually so for this coastal corner of the country.

Over the years, I have spent hours in the cricket outfield in such heat, and even cycling through the midsummer of Southern France at the height of the day (when all French people are cloistered behind their shuttered windows for a long lunch and une sieste), with nothing more than a good sweat on, and, in fact, actually enjoying a warm and happy glow, with distant memories of sleet blowing off the North Sea to help me smile.

On this Saturday I found that it was too hot for me to be outside. My head and body were going into a personal lockdown. This is unheard of. I rechecked the temperature and yes, it was a few degrees over 80F. So what? Have I suddenly become less tolerant of heat? Has my 71 year old metabolism taken umbrage at being subjected to an excess of heat? I feel fine in every way, not unduly tired or lethargic, and today, as I write this 6 days after the event, I have completed a 14 miles’ circular cycle ride in the mid 70sF, with no ill effects other than an instant craving to neck a 0% alcohol beer upon returning home. I did….

It is unlikely that we will see the mercury rise above 80 again this summer, but I shall be watching and waiting to see if I experience any bodily reaction to this. I’m interested to see if any readers of my age have suddenly found a similar situation in respect of their own tolerance levels.

We have family in Malaysia whom we have been unable to visit due to the Covid situation, and, as they live a constantly air-conditioned life as a result of the outside temperature rarely dropping below 80F, I look forward with some trepidation to a potential visit, as I don’t want to fly all that way only to end up sitting in their apartment for a fortnight.

Mine’s a pint of something cool….


We have seen and experienced temperatures in this country, higher than ever before. The thermometer in the shade outside our back door registered 38C one day, with similarly high temperatures for days on end. My constitution did not respon, and when the cooler weather eventually came, it was a rare blessing. Never will I complain about the North East climate again!! And the Malaysian Barnes are now back in the UK, basking in our now temperate climate, and loving every minute.

Old Friends (2021 style)

(Or should it be Still Crazy After All These Years – following Paul Simon’s song titles?)

To be fair to everyone mentioned, some are still walking up to the door marked 70, and others have let themselves in already, so old by some conventions. But I mean old as in long-time, and, more importantly, not one of these people could remotely be regarded as old as in ‘lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset’*, in terms of demeanour, outlook, or attitude; quite an achievement in itself. They’re all feisty, opinionated and great fun to be with.

People aged around 70 in 2021 seem different from those Paul Simon wrote about at the end of the 1960s – ‘Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly? How terribly strange to be 70…’* That sounds more like those over 80 nowadays.

Those who have followed this series of essays will know that my generation of our family left its Sheffield area roots behind at the end of the 1980s, to move even further north, and by so doing, estranged ourselves from a regular social group which has been strong since post-school days. This is The Sheffield Group (SG).

I spent much of my teenage years at school in Worcestershire. My parents invested in this on the basis that it could give me a better chance in life, than going to a local school. They may also have wanted me out of the way during my years of teenage angst, but it’s too late to ask them now. Anyway, the experience didn’t scar me, and many friendships ensued whilst away from home. One result of these is The Malvern Group (MG)

In the cases of both Groups, ‘we talked about some old times and drank ourselves some beers’** and to the huge delight of all ‘we seem to lean on old familiar ways’** – and most recently with SG in the sunny Peak District in June 2021 (see pic below).

There are basic differences between the two groups.

SG comprises 4 couples who knew each other in the early 1970s, all having been married (as was the tradition) at that time whilst in their early 20s, all of whom now have children (11 between us), and grandchildren (24!). All are still married to the same partners, and have stayed in the Sheffield area, with the exception of Sue and I. We visit the area for holidays from time to time, and put out an all-points message for a get-together.

Historically this has taken place at the Miners Arms in Eyam, the scene of much alcohol-fuelled revelry back in the day, when every Friday night was a lock-in, before we got back in our cars for ‘over the limit’ drives back into Sheffield. How no-one ever crashed remains a mystery to this day. This year’s was at the Scotman’s Pack in Hathersage, a convenient 100 yard crawl away from our holiday cottage.

Only 1 of the 8 went to University straight from school, although 2 went to Polytechnic, and 1 has gained an OU qualification later in life. The group all come from the ‘right side’ of the city, one via ‘white’ Africa, and some went to private school – yet the pull of University wasn’t strong. To a man (and woman) all have succeeded in life, being no different in these areas than those in MG.

MG‘s roots reach as far back as 1963, when the members were all eager 13 year olds living and learning with each other for 5 school years. We all went our separate ways at the end of the 1960s until about 20 years ago, when Graham found me via the Friends Reunited website. This resulted in some very social meetings in London. By 2009, the core members had increased to 4 (see pic below), and we had the first face-to-face, men-only reunion in 2009, and we’ve had more since. Conversation and drink flows, and we would have met again more recently had it not been for lockdowns.

This is where ZOOM came in, and now we have regular on-screen meetings, albeit for only 40 minutes at a time, and with only minimal alcohol at our fingertips. The group has now increased to a hardcore of 5, with an additional ‘brother’ logging in from Cape Town when he can. Truly international, and we have a boys’ night away planned for December for all who can.

All of MG bar one (me!) went to University, and have had glittering careers on the back of it. Whether their lives have turned out any ‘better’ than SG is not up for debate. But what is undeniable, is that everyone has arrived at the same point in their later lives with smiles on their faces, and much experience and bonhomie to share.

I love the vibe and synergy of both groups, and if anyone hasn’t tried this with their own ‘old’ friends, I recommend it as one of life’s great diversions, coming full circle as it does on life-long relationships and friendships.

But, most importantly from my perspective, both these groups of lovely people help me make sense of my life cycle, being a strand that runs through. They provide continuity by having been there when I was younger and gauche and making mistakes, and being there again when I may even have grown up a little. But no-one judges anyone, no-one scores points, and everyone takes everyone else for exactly who they are, and everyone will remember why we were friends all those years ago – and still are. The river runs deep even though it flows quickly.

*Lyrics from the song Old Friends by Paul Simon – 1968
**Lyrics from the song Still Crazy After All These Years by Paul Simon – 1975

SG – Gerald, Stephen, Sue, John, Val, Anne, Rob, (Fi snapping)
MG – Rob, Hugh, Will, and Graham (Nick and Simon to follow)

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