When I was 17, I met two brothers at the office I was working in. Through those brothers, I met a large group of people, some of whom played together in a band. Two years later, I moved out of my parental home and shared a rented house with four of them. Since then we have kept in touch, and seen each other when we could. But people move around, circumstances change, and those meetings become fewer.
In 2020, one of those original house-mates and a lifelong friend, Brian, died of Covid-19, and I could not go to his funeral because of restricted numbers. It was decided that we would have a party to celebrate his life, but that couldn’t happen in 2021 either. It was finally arranged for last Friday.
The chosen venue was 125 miles south of Beetley. That meant we would need hotel accommodation, and someone to look after Ollie overnight. My cousin in Essex agreed to take him. She has two small dogs, and Ollie has visited her with us many times before. I booked a decent hotel three miles from the venue, and we travelled down to my cousin’s in Essex on the way. The weather was not great, starting the journey in fog, and ending it in rain.
After a light lunch and a catch-up, we left her house in plenty of time to get to the hotel. Once we arrived, taxis were booked. One to take us to a restaurant booked for 5:30pm, and a second to collect us from the venue at a golf club at 11:15pm. By the time we were leaving to go the restaurant, it was raining at a monsoon standard. We were the first to arrive, at a table booked for eight people.
The next couple to show up was Martin and his wife. Martin had lived in the house with us, but I had not seen him since, almost fifty years. I had never met his wife, as he moved to Cornwall when I was 21. They had just driven for over seven hours in awful weather to be there that evening. Despite a half-century apart, we recognised each other immediately. Next to arrive were two friends we had not seen since we moved away from London in 2012. Finally, Roland turned up, soaked to the skin having walked the twenty minutes from the golf club where he had been setting up with the other musicians. He brought one along, and though we had never met him before, he settled in easily.
There were a lot of laughs as we ate, teasing each other mercilessly. When it was time to leave for the party, we were lucky to get a lift in a friend’s car and not have to wait for a taxi to avoid the torrential rain.
On arrival, the venue was already packed to capacity. So many people wanted to be there to celebrate Brian’s life. Old friends, family members, his ex-wife, his daughter, as well as many of his golf club comrades. The band was already set up for an evening of Blues music. (Brian was a vocalist in many bands over the years) Musicians had come together from all over England to take part. So many that they took turns on instruments, and turns at the microphone.
There was a large TV screen showing a loop of photographs of Brian from his schooldays to his latter years. Most of us were in one or more of those photos with him. I found it too emotional to look at, and had to stand with my back to the screen.
The band played in various configurations until 11pm. With so many in the audience, there was no room for dancing, so we all stood or sat and just enjoyed the memories of songs we had seen Brian perform for over fifty years. After a tour of the room to say our farewells, it was back to the hotel to collapse exhausted.
By the time we got back to my cousin’s house the next day, Ollie was beyond excited to see us, and almost hysterical with happiness. He had not been left overnight for almost six years, and though he had settled well with my cousin, his delight at seeing us was a joy to behold. Not long after, another cousin arrived to see us, and we settled into an afternoon of lovely memories, more laughter, and that good feeling of being with family.
Despite more heavy rain and thunderstorms, we slept well that night and had breakfast with my cousin before leaving for the journey back to Beetley. It had felt like an incredibly busy and tiring weekend, but I was so glad we had made the effort to go.