(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)