This weekend has been a break from the usual cerebral search for ideas, the aimless casting about with synaptic fishing rod put on hold for once, in favour of dipping a toe into the far more reliable stream of consciousness that is youthful reminiscence with an old friend.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I went to comprehensive school in Sussex and Chris went to a posh public school over the border in Kent, we probably would have become friends sooner. As it was we met when we were 15 or 16, almost certainly in one of the many pubs in Crowborough that catered for the discerning under-age drinker, of which there were many. (Where did we get our cash from back then? Paper rounds and pocket money obviously went a lot further in the good old days)
Here was someone with the same idiotic sense of humour, same tastes in music and books and a similar propensity for making a fool of themselves whilst overly inebriated.
It was a bit of a revelation for a state educated tearaway like myself, to discover that someone with such a supposedly privileged upbringing was as much of an imbecile with a few pints inside him as the next teenage delinquent.
As it turned out, Chris was the one person amongst my immediate circle of friends who we were all envious of, at least once we’d been to his parents’ large and imposing house in the countryside on the edge of town, complete with tennis court, paddocks, horses and stable yard, and an apparently endless, constantly replenished supply of frozen food for midnight munchie sessions. Unsurprisingly it soon became the preferred venue for after hours shenanigans and parties. (Chris later found that his patiently understanding mum, noticing the regular nighttime depletion of her food stocks, would remember to buy replacements for the most favoured items, eventually even allocating a separate area in the freezer for post-pub plundering)
It was Chris who introduced me to the marvels of Philip K Dick‘s extraordinary hallucinatory oddessy The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and also broadened my musical horizons with bands such as the equally extraordinary Alien Sex Fiend, and over the top punk-berserkers Discharge.
And it was also here that Zippy’s adventure had it’s abrupt end.
We discovered early on that we had a mutual love of non-specific arguing, our escalating “debates” sometimes drawing an enthusiastic audience, keen to add fuel to the entertainment.
But it was the stories Chris told us about his time at public school that I remember most clearly.
For example; The one where Chris is chased by Russian secret police…
Whilst studying for his Russian course at school (not a subject available to us mere mortals at comprehensive) Chris got the chance to visit the Motherland itself.
During his stay he was talked into acting as lookout for a street deal involving a school friend, a Russian teenager and some filthy capitalist denim jeans that could change hands for surprising amounts of money back in the cold war ’80s.
At the crucial point in the transaction however, two long black limousines drew up at the end of the alley and several of the archetypal large serious men in long black coats and round fur hats so beloved of spy novels disembarked and immediately gave chase as the alarmed school friends vacated the scene with some speed. (Chris by this time having heroically dived into a convenient hedge)
Apparently one of his fleeing classmates was waylaid by a pursuing KGB heavy, but as soon the goon discovered he had laid hands on one of Her Majesty’s subjects, he dropped him like a hot diplomatic potato.
The remaining fugitives from the iron hand of Soviet justice were anyway relieved to find themselves of no further interest, for it soon became obvious that the errant local boy was the target and having caught up with him they ceased their pursuit.
Or the one about being taught to drive at public school…
Another pointed reminder of the difference in our schooling was the discovery that most pupils at his posh school were encouraged to join one of the junior cadet forces such as the Army Cadets, where they were taught the basics of driving in a land rover.
One of the novel ways the instructor had of ensuring his charges got the dreaded “hill start” right first time was to wait until they were seated behind the wheel, then demand they give up their (probably expensive) wristwatch which was then placed under the knobbly rear tyre.
Failing to successfully engage the clutch at this point would now result in a nasty little crunching noise and the sudden need for a new timepiece.
Needless to say, the pass rate was unusually high.
Me (standing) and Chris; you had to make your own entertainment in the ’90s.
In short, when Chris and I were in close proximity the result was usually quite loud and invariably messy.
Like the time in the early nineties when the pair of us spent all day at a beer festival at The Wheatsheaf in Crowborough, me on scrumpy and Chris on some form of lethal old ale, only to decide at 8 o’clock in the evening that it was essential that we go and see a gig by The Lloyd Langton Group.
The sometime-guitarist with psyche-rock space cadets Hawkwind and his backing band were playing at a large pub, several miles away on Ashdown Forest, and we duly summoned a cab and took ourselves over there.
Twenty minutes later, much the worse for wear after our all day festivities, we were slumped on barstools, blearily watching the band setting up and playing pool before the gig.
A few minutes before they took the stage a surprisingly short, healthy looking Huw Lloyd Langton (for it was he) strolled up to the two disheveled, denim clad cabbages propping up the bar and uttered the immortal words;
“I see the Hawkwind fans are here then”
I moved to Devon over 15 years ago and in all that time I’ve never managed to get back in touch with Chris, other than a few brief chats on Facebook, and our paths never crossed when on our infrequent trips back to Sussex to see family.
So imagine my surprise when I get a message from Chris last week saying that he’s staying with his dad in Devon, only half an hour’s drive from home.
Which is why I’ve spent the last two days jabbering on about über-hippies Gong, experimental electronic music weirdos Royal Family and the Poor and their bizarre electro-pop opus Phase One: Temple of the 13th Tribe, disastrous parties, fights and accidents of a shared misspent youth and generally wallowing in the glorious nostalgia allowed by 20/20 hindsight, and the grateful knowledge that we don’t ever have to do it again.
And the amazing thing is, after fifteen years of hardly any contact, we fell straight back into the old rhythms of friendship as if the conversation had simply been interrupted by a knock at the door, telling the old stories and still finding them just as funny today.
A truly excellent weekend spent in the rose-tinted glow of greatest hits and edited highlights of the real best years of our lives.