Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Good Reception

Last week a good friend of mine got married.

That in itself is a fairly piss poor excuse for a blog. Maybe I could continue with how beautiful the Best Man's speech was. Or how lovely the bride was in her utterly lovely dress. I could even base this blog on how the wedding was or wasn't like this earlier blog I wrote last year.

Ultimately though this wedding wasn't tremendous because my mate got married, it was superb because I finally realised a few things that are fundamental.

To set the scene.

My mate's name is Neil and if we go back through the mists of time to the primal chaos that reigned in 1993 you find me, a wide-eyed and eager 22 year old Law graduate (3rd class Honours. Borderline 2:2 but the vote went against me in the "Which Way Should The Blade Fall" meeting) who had just left the comforting bosom of 3 years at UCLan in Preston. I went straight into a temping job, working as a Purchasing Clerk answering to a sour faced, menopausal old cunt named Barbara Bellis at North West Cable Communications (long since defunct). In the warehouse, just across from our portakabin was a warehouse where the "lads" worked. One of them was Neil, a year younger than me and up from Stoke-on-Trent to find a job.

I met him on the first day when I was shown around the warehouse and being introduced to everyone. He seemed a decent bloke but I didn't give him much more thought until I saw him out one night with his girlfriend. We sparked up a conversation and became mates, hanging out on weekends now and then until I moved out of town in 1995.

Now...as early to mid twenty something lads in the 1990s in the north of England, mine and Neil's interactions were very rarely what you could call "bromance". While good mates, there was a heap of piss taking on both sides and if one of us did something stupid or daft or drunken, or a mixture of all three...then we'd rib each other remorselessly about it. His sense of humour always cracked me up. Once a 1970s black and white film was showing on the TV in the warehouse. On the screen was a rather ghastly looking boy with a pudding basin hair cut. Neil tutted and went "What a horrible kid! I'd drown it if it was mine!" 14 years later I told him that I'd had a one night stand with a bloke I met in a gay bar during what I described as a "mid life crisis". After a pause he went "My mid life crisis would be driving down the road in a convertible with shades on and an 18 year old bird sat next to me NOT getting bored out by some bloke!"

Being too emotional or affectionate with another guy wasn't on my agenda or in my friendship with Neil back in the day. Blokes being open with each other was reserved for drunken benders (did you see what I did there?) or maybe Christmas parties. Once I had a massive row with his now ex-girlfriend and the next night Neil turned up at my flat with a hand written note from her to say sorry. He impassively watched me open and read the note and then agreed to stay for a spliff before heading home. He told me weeks later that he'd agreed with his ex that if I tore the letter up without reading it, then he would simply walk out and never speak to me again. However he had faith, which I upheld and all was good.

Thing is, this was all done by both of us with the same level of emotion as if we were ordering a pint down the local.

In late 1995 I moved to Italy and we stayed in touch in the summer holidays. Back in the days when British pubs closed at 11.30pm every night (apart from Sundays when it was 11) we'd try and get down the boozer no later than 8 o'clock for our little get togethers once or twice a year and stagger home drunk laughing, then shake hands before we went on our way.

Neil was always a good mate but that was all he was for about 15 years until we lost touch. My fault because I lost his phone number in 2013 after he rang me when I moved back from Mexico. Last I knew he had moved in with a woman called Sam in Redding and had two kids (one from her previous relationship and a little girl). I sent him a Christmas card in 2014 but it came back unopened by whoever had moved into his house. I hoped that he'd kept my phone number and would get back in touch.

Then a month ago the phone rang and it was Neil and he asked me if I'd like to come to his wedding next month. Him and Sam now had 3 kids and had decided after 13 years to tie the knot. He pointed out that it wasn't a big do with only about 26 people in attendance. I said I'd see him then, cleared my calendar and made my way over there on April 2nd to the Travelodge where I'd be sharing with Neil, his eldest son and one of Neil's other best mates Pete.

I was touched to be invited but didn't really put too much emphasis on it until I got to the hotel. As I was dismantling my Sat Nav and stowing the cables back in the glove box, a 6 feet tall guy came up to the window. Not knowing who the hell it was I opened the door to find I was addressing Neil's eldest lad, now 19 and about 2 feet taller than the last time we'd met 7 years ago. He greeted me by name, offered to help me bring my stuff in and said "Dad saw you pull up out the window and told me to come down."

Got into the room to find Neil stood there grinning. A bit grey at the temples but still the same. I shook his and asked brightly "Do I get a hug or is that still for poofs?" Laughing he gave me a hug and offered me a beer from the impromptu fridge they'd made by pouring cold water in to the bath and plonking the tins in.

After a chat and a catch up we made our way to the local boozer for a few pints. Something was a little changed from last time though. Neil was a lot different and I could tell I was too. There was much less piss taking and banter and a lot more focus on what we'd actually been doing for the last few years. I pointed out that we'd not been in touch for ages and being invited to a wedding of only 26 attendees was a bit of a shock coming out of the blue. Neil replied "I wanted to get back in touch and thought this was a good way to go about it."

When Pete turned up we had a few quiet beers in the hotel bar, as Neil contemplated his last night as a "single" man. I again tried to make light of the fact that he'd invited me to the wedding but he said to both of us:

"When you moved to Mexico I thought I wasn't going to see you again, ever. You've told me how violent that place was." He turned and gestured to Pete who nodded silently in agreement. "I even told him 'Think that's the last we're seeing of Lance'. I was really relieved when you came back."

Somewhat taken aback I tried to lighten the mood by saying that tomorrow I'd be trying to pull a bridesmaid. Neil laughed and replied "Well, there's only one and she's my 9 year old daughter so I hope not!"

Next day we nursed our respective hangovers and got our suits ready. Neil went off to fetch his 17 month old son Logan and get him into the Mini Me tuxedo they'd got him for the day. I had an amusing hour or so playing with Logan once he got over his nervousness about being around strangers in a confined space. I noticed most of all that Neil was clearly a very doting dad, who thought the world of his little boy. 

While getting ready for the ceremony Neil was telling Pete just when he knew he'd fallen in love with Sam and how he was nervous but looking forward to it all. At the registry office and it was indeed a small do. Sam's father gave her away via an I-pad on Facetime from New Zealand (at 4am by his clock). The ceremony was brief and after we made our way to the reception. With one half of a pub called The Shoulder of Mutton booked out for us, we had a few speeches but absolutely everyone seemed 100% happy to be there. Getting drunker I even had a boogie with Neil and his 9 year old daughter to some ghastly trance track.

Next day with a sore head, I made my way over to Neil's house where his family were still gathered and the huge wedding cake was being sliced up and put in presentation boxes to take away. I had a strong cup of coffee and then made my way home.


The wedding was fun. The reunion was awesome and the reception was great. But what this day made me realise was that Neil had really missed me to the point that he'd chosen to ask me to attend his wedding where, not including the key personnel, there were 20 other people invited. I hadn't seen him for years and for all he knew I'd just lost interest (as opposed to simply losing his number..and he's not on Facebook...or Twitter...or any social media).

My interactions with humans have been shaky to say the least, for most of my life. I've always believed that deep down people thought I was at best amusing and at worst a nuisance. I've kept people at arm's length for just that reason and several others. I have close friends but they passed the emotional equivalent of SAS selection for me to trust them. Without any of that trial and error, there was someone in this world who simply thought I was a good friend and missed me and thought enough of me to invite me to his wedding. A wedding I might add that was totally enjoyable without any of that forced, contrived crap or relatives fighting that I've seen happen in the past.

This was what I would want my wedding to be. Nothing forced. Nothing contrived. Just people who genuinely like each other, or even love each other spending time together. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and perceptive. Your writing is so much better when its effect is uncalculated, and you aren't trying to shock and/or repel. I enjoyed reading this.


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