Friendship, And Distance

I read a post earlier today from my blogging friend in Australia, Lloyd Marken. He wrote about attending the wedding of a friend. Since those friends had grown up, got married, and moved around the vast country that is Australia, they don’t get to see that much of each other. But when he was invited to that old friend’s wedding, he did not hesitate to book a hotel, then drive almost 800 miles to Sydney.

Real friends are like gold dust. Real friends endure, despite distances that might separate you. And they rarely judge you.

Compared to Australia, England is tiny. Yet moving just 140 miles from London means that I rarely see my oldest and best friends. Add to that the sad fact that a few of them have died, and you might be forgiven for thinking that my friends are now few and far between.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite lack of physical contact since I moved to Beetley, made worse by travel restrictions during the pandemic lockdowns, my oldest friends are undoubtedly still my best friends, whether I am able to see them, or not.

There is nothing I would not do for those real friends. I would give them my last pound, lie in court for them, and give them my car if they needed to drive anywhere. I would let them stay in my house rent-free, send them food, in fact anything they ever needed or wanted.

The simple fact that I no longer live near any of them is meaningless. For that matter, I could be living in Australia, and never see them again.

But they would be my best friends, until my dying day.

Valentine’s Day

I would like to wish a Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone who celebrates it.

This one day celebration of love and affection has been the victim of excessive commercialisation for decades, but the true spirit of it remains something that endures.

However, the online outpourings of love messages, Gifs, and even proposals of marriage on social media can be very distressing for people who are without a partner or loved one in life. And in a year where the pandemic has taken so many lives, this day will be a reminder of loved ones lost like never before.

So I am asking us all to remember the bereaved, the lonely, and the unloved on this day. Perhaps send them a message to let them know they are not forgotten.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday


I was away visiting friends last weekend, so wasn’t really thinking about much else. And I was nowhere near a computer, so there was no regular Sunday post.

But this morning, I woke up thinking about Mothers. Given that today is Mother’s Day in Britain, that is not really surprising.

My own Mum died in 2012, at the age of 87. She always loved Mother’s Day, expecting my attendance for a meal, and looking forward to the large card she received without fail. I always brought a gift too, but she was never bothered about that, much preferring to read the words in the card, and whatever short note I had added. When I was a child, one of my relatives would buy me a card and gift to give her, or I would make something at school. She kept all of those, and every card I ever gave her, throughout the next sixty years.

I have no doubt that I often took her for granted, especially during my teens. My clothes were washed and ironed, a meal always on the table, and support for everything from my stressful exams, to my first job, was given without reservation. During problems in adult life, she was always on my side. But if she thought I had made the wrong choice about something, she was quick to caution me about my decision. Nothing was too much trouble for her, as far as her child was concerned. She was a good mother, an excellent mother. One of the great mothers.

But with few exceptions, aren’t they all?

Whether sheltering in a refugee tent in Syria, dealing with a drug-addicted child in Edinburgh, or living with a severely-disabled child in India, mothers all around the world do nothing but show devotion to their children. The same cannot always be said of fathers, unfortunately, though some are undoubtedly excellent.

In my experience, becoming a mother brings on a fundamental change in a woman. As the baby is handed to them, something happens inside, that unconditional love that endures. Whether that child eventually turns out to be a University Professor, a world-famous doctor, a coal-miner, or nurse, the love of a mother never dwindles, and remains the same as the child becomes an adult. Even the mothers of serial killers and fraudsters still love their children. They will forgive us almost anything, driven by that magical connection of carrying us inside their bodies.

So today I send a salute to all mothers, wherever you are.
We couldn’t have done it without you.

Chasing Leaves In The Wind

Hard to believe now, but there was a time when I was attractive to women. Especially older women, but younger ones on occasion too. Unlike the good-looking boys, the sporty types, the football players, and the accomplished swimmers, all confident in their desirability, that came as a great surprise to me. A greater surprise was that they not only liked me, but lusted after me too, eager to do much more than chatting, or cuddling. Although their affections and desires confused me, I knew enough not to question their reasons. I accepted their favours, and their affections, with a sense of gratitude combined with wonder.

My mirror now confirms that this is no longer the case. I harbour no illusions these days. I am an old man, and perceived to be one. I live a life of relative contentment, and do not concern myself too much about things like passion and desire. But I still have many treasured memories of course. Snapshots of the past; fleeting moments that appear, sometimes when I least expect them to. Mostly, they are good memories of course. The excitement of a new partner, the hurried fumbling followed by mutual satisfaction. Sometimes, whole scenes play out in my head, as if they happened just yesterday, not almost fifty years ago.

As I get older with each passing year, the same memories appear to change, and for the better. Perhaps I am only searching my mind for complete positives, and that’s why. They have also decided to mainly appear when I am in bed, just about to fall asleep. As I lay with my eyes closed, they flood into my mind, and the feeling is a good one. Faces and names from the briefest of encounters, longer relationships, and previous marriages. They are happy faces, and I am happy too. But as sleep takes hold, those memories begin to fragment; they merge, and start to flutter away.

I want them to remain, so I feel as if I am chasing them, trying to hold onto the last second of time with them, as I unwillingly slip away into the arms of Morpheus. But they swirl around, elusive, one over the other, off back to wherever they came from. Until the next time.

It is like chasing leaves in the wind.

Be my Valentine?

There have been lots of Valentine’s Day posts around the blogs today, as might be expected. Like most traditional celebrations, this day has been overblown, inflated, and hijacked by shops and big corporations, until it is has become something very different from its roots at a time more innocent.

I have always celebrated it, one way or another. As a child, I was bought a card to give to my Mum, and perhaps a small gift to present to her too. Once I was an awkward teenager, keen to impress my first real girlfriend, I saved for weeks to be able to give gifts of flowers, and chocolates in a heart-shaped box. Back then, it was not done to sign the accompanying card. It was supposed to be a mystery, despite the obvious farce of handing it over along with the gift. On rare occasions, I have received an unsigned card in the post. Sometimes, this was a prank organised by friends, and very rarely, a token of affection from someone that I had no idea even liked me.

If you are settled in a relationship, perhaps even married, such cards can ruin the day, and many days following. A jealous wife or husband will be sure that you must know who sent it, and constantly demand to know who it is. You can protest your ignorance of the sender until you are exhausted, but the seed of doubt will have been sown. Anyone thinking of sending a card to someone they know is happily involved, should seriously consider the potential for damage. Or maybe that is their intention?

As commerce began to tighten its grip on the day, it started to seem as if some flowers and a card were no longer enough. Heart-shaped jewellery became popular, then stuffed fluffy animals, personalised ‘I Love You’ gifts, soon followed by complete ‘Valentine experiences.’ Nothing was ruled out, by anyone with the funds to support the efforts of the merchandisers. The simple flowers soon became too expensive for most pockets. By the late 1970s, shops were asking £2 each for roses, with a bunch of twelve costing half a week’s wages. That the same bunch could be had for a third of the price the following day was simply an indication of how supply and demand works in retail.

Gifts and cards were now so commonplace, we were urged to actually be doing something memorable to celebrate this day. Weekend breaks, ‘Romantic’ destinations, special meals in restaurants and hotels, with dishes given corny names for one night only. Heart-shaped desserts, even heart-shaped steaks. There seemed to be no end to the invention, when it came to cashing in. People would ask “What are you ding for Valentine’s?” This said with the same expectations as they might have for your holiday plans, or Christmas celebrations. TV advertising, in-store advertising, racks of cards, and gifts ranging from heart-shaped cookies, to heart-shaped frying pans, (for that breakfast egg, on the 14th) all appeared in the days immediately following the Christmas break. Even toys are sold with special Valentine tweaks, leading children to anticipate even more gifts, and continuing to miss the point completely.

Overwhelmed by this sea of commercialism, my instincts made me reluctant to comply. For some years, I refused to play ball. I might buy a card, or might not. I flatly refused to buy flowers at inflated prices. (And still do) I would discuss the crass nature of the exploitation, though deep down, I knew that my wife or partner secretly hoped for some acknowledgement on the day. Eventually, I settled for an acceptable balance. A card, a useful or attractive gift, but no pandering to special nights, or romantic breaks. No visits to restaurants, to advertise my love over a heart-shaped Panna cotta.

And I started to think about the unloved; the lonely singles, bombarded by this imagery for weeks on end. No cards in the post for them. No chocolates, heart-shaped or otherwise. The absence of tokens reinforcing their loneliness and concerns, their worries about a life unfulfilled.
And all because of a letter, sent by a prisoner, in the days of the Roman Empire.

Significant Songs (5)

If I Ain’t Got You

If any of you have ever been involved in a romantic relationship, I will bet my bottom dollar that there is a song that reminds you of it. You may not like to admit it though. You might consider it to be slushy and sentimental, to have a song that makes you come over all amorous, or reflective, but I am sure that there is one lurking there, filed under ‘Love’ in your brain’s memory banks.

When I met Julie, in 2000, we soon had a few songs that we could associate with the time and place of our new relationship. As well as our individual favourites, there were a few contenders for songs that were new to us both, and made us think about each other, when we were apart. One worth a mention, was the hit song ‘Groovejet (If this ain’t love)’, by Spiller, with vocals by Sophie Ellis Bextor. This was released that summer, before we started seeing each other in the autumn. I played it a lot, and Julie liked it too. The lyrics seemed to have a connection to our situation at the time, and we often thought it a very special song, just for for us. The other song with seemingly appropriate lyrics and theme that year was ‘The Time Is Now’, by Moloko, sung by Rosin Murphy. As we started our journey as a couple, it was as if songs written perfectly for us, were appearing from everywhere.

Of course, we were old enough to appreciate that they were just pop songs, and that the symbolism, though relevant, was just amusingly coincidental. Music featured a lot in those early days, and we would sit in my flat in Camden, and have ‘music nights’, both of us playing our favourites, old and new. As we carried on seeing each other, and becoming closer, we took less notice of lyrics in songs, perhaps settling into the knowledge that we were going to stay together, come what may. We did still have a soft spot for the Spiller and Moloko songs though, and always mentioned that they were ‘our songs’, whenever we heard them.

In 2003, I heard a new song, from Alicia Keys. I already knew of this talented young woman, and had bought her CD ‘Songs in A Minor’. This new song was instantly memorable, with a piano intro, great structure, and meaningful lyrics. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and bought the CD soon after. It was called ‘If I Ain’t Got You’, and the words immediately made me think of Julie, and our relationship. We both liked it very much, and played it often. One day, I remarked to Julie, that if we ever got married, then this song should be our first dance, such was the relevance it had for us. She agreed, and that was the end of the conversation.

Six years later, in 2009, we finally did get married; after nine years together, and many ups and downs in our lives, that we had worked through as a couple. Although many great songs had appeared in those intervening years, there was still only one choice for our first dance. And I almost missed it. I was standing outside the venue, chatting, and had to be rounded up by friends, to go in and have the first dance at our wedding. This September, we will have been married for five years, and together for fourteen. This song still means as much to me today, as when I first heard it, all those years ago.