Friday, 6 August 2010

Chapter 12 - Friends

Charlie's Birthday Party 1993

‘I love the friends I have gathered together here on this thin raft’ (Jim Morrison)

This blog about our beloved VW Van would be incomplete without mentioning those who have been an integral part of the journey. This is a pictorial & anecdotal tribute to the places we’ve been with friends, and the people who have enriched our often madcap adventures. There’s not a great deal in it about Charlie, so if you only want to read about him, you’ll have to skip through to Chapter 13, but part of the spirit & beauty of the VW camper van is about the people who’ve shared the trip, these are just a few of them and I crave your indulgence.

Part 1: Becki
Let’s start at the beginning. A very good place to start, according to Julie Andrews. It kinda began with Becki driving Charlie from Bexleyheath to our flat in Croydon the day we made the purchase I talked about earlier in the story. Neither Kath nor I had driving licences so Becki had been enlisted to be our chauffer for the night. It was one of the few times I sat in the back of Charlie in all the time we had him, and during the short drive all the euphoria of the potential adventures & possibilities that lay ahead of us once again enchanted me. One of the other times I was relegated to the back seat was when, hideously drunk after a lock-in in a pub in The Peak District, I was sternly admonished to leave my driving duties by the friend who was with me at the time. So concerned was he about the fact that, on top of the large quantities of ale I'd consumed in the pub, I had also quaffed half a bottle of green chartreuse – a vicious liqueur with an evil green appearance & a kick to match. The only problem was – having drunk more booze than me, as well as the other half of the vile bottle of chartreuse, he was only marginally less pissed than I was!
Anyway. Now, to get a driving licence!

Becki & I had been friends and lovers since just after Sam and I finally split up; due in no small part to Sam’s increasing tendency to hurl whatever items of crockery she could lay hands on at the time around the flat, usually at my head. I mentioned this proclivity of hers in a previous chapter, so if you’re intrigued by this you need to go back a bit and find it.
Anyway, I’d met Bex whilst working at Capital Radio’s ‘Kidsline.’ I deployed my major (and thus far, only) strategy for luring women into bed by inviting them to, ‘like, come & live with me, OK?’  This, amazingly had always worked in the past, so why not give it a shot? Nothing to lose, what.
Now Becki was (and still is) spectacularly gorgeous, and I didn’t really think for a moment that she was going to fall for that one, cliché number 52 in the failed lotharios’ handbook. Imagine to my stunned surprise that she actually, unbelievably, said ‘YES’ in big caps an’ all, jush like that. Yer man, Tommy Cooper, he had nothing on me! What I didn’t know was that she was trying to get away from a rubbish boyfriend with an implausible name like Tarquin or Tristram or Justin or some such thing.

All I knew was that this attractive & intelligent, albeit slightly ditzy woman had said she would come & live with me. To add icing to the cake, her dad was building his own air raid shelter in Somerset. Informed, as I was, by my anti-nuclear activities and the very real fear at the time that nuclear war may soon be upon us, a girlfriend whose dad had an air raid shelter in his garden might come in handy in more ways than one!
The only thing was that, in my state of numbed surprise and condition of dangerously heightened, hormone driven arousal, I agreed to her request: ‘yeah man I want an open relationship right,’ because I was, well, er, cool and trendy and down with women. So if that’s what the modern woman wanted, then who was I to disagree! The whole trip would be a rejection of our parents materialistic, prudish, Mary Whitehouse, lace curtain anti-sexuality; divorce driven suburban lives, so let the good times roll, or so I thought.

In fact, I really hadn’t thought this one through at all. I’d bought various books and pamphlets that advocated ‘open relationships’ & agreed with just about everything in them. They told me that monogamy was enslavement of women (and men, children & pets); a sterile festering trap that gnawed away at people until they turned to drugs, alcohol or daytime television in their despair. The only way to be was ‘free man’, but unfortunately after a couple of months or so the sight of Becki getting dressed up to go out on a date which didn’t involve me, became a torment. I tried, in the true spirit of the agreement, to try & go on dates of my own, but somehow my heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t that she was being cruel, she just wasn’t a soul mate in that sense, and I began to realise what feelings of jealousy might entail. Joni Mitchell says ‘love is touching souls’ and I think that’s what I was looking for.

In fact, I realised with an inner sigh, that actually I quite wanted boring bourgeois monogamy, as well as a slightly less exotic & exciting lifestyle than the one Becki & I had been living. I could kinda cope with the need to smoke large amounts of weed during the day – it usually took both of us about two joints in the morning just to get out of bed (something I’ve now replaced with two cups of tea – different poison I guess). I was also usually entranced by the fact that people would drop by at all times of the day & night, usually to discuss intelligent & arcane subjects and the burning issues of the day such as: are Nepalese Temple Balls better than Acapulco Gold, or is the latest Pink Floyd album better than the last one, maaan – it usually was. I also enjoyed the number of people who seemed to like the food we cooked, and then because it was getting late – ‘and I am a bit stoned like dude’ decided to stay the night, usually on any bit of floor space they could occupy, sometimes including our bedroom. But the morning I woke up to find the entire front room and kitchen frequented by the previous evening's, now slumbering stoners, none of whom I remotely knew, I thought ‘enough is enough!’ I kinda decided there & then to call an end to my dissolute lifestyle, find a soul mate and settle down!

So Becki & I split up, and unknowingly, had already met the love of my life, my soul mate, on an anti-nuclear demo, but that’s for a different chapter. Becki & I have remained firm friends; she cherishes my kids, family, successes, endeavours in the same way I cherish hers, and although we don’t often get together as much as we’d like (she will insist on living in remote difficult to get to places such as The Philippines, Germany and, more lately Devon), but it’s still great when we get together. Her fella, Rolf, is German but despite the avowed rivalry between our two nations, he & I are both passionate football fans, and get on really well. He had every right to take the piss out of me during our World Cup humiliation, England losing 4 - 1 to Germany, but he's kinda like the brother I never had, so I don't mind too much. One day we'll get our revenge!

Part 2: John
It’s a cliché, but quite true; that sometimes when you don’t see someone for ages but when you eventually hook up again, if you start chatting away like you saw them only yesterday, then this is true friendship, mes amigos, and it is like gold dust so cherish it well.
(Bit of a mouthful that last sentence, but I hope you get my drift).
Anyway, I am enormously fortunate to have several friends who are like this; Becki is one and John is another. As related earlier, John & I first met up at University, and has been a constant in my life ever since. Not only did he introduce me to folk music, via Fairport Convention and Planxty, he is also one of the funniest and most erudite people around. An hour or so spent in his company will find the conversation touching on issues as diverse as Irish history & other history in general; folk music; travel; the latest must-read book; the clergy; the strangeness of folk and much, much more. All delivered in scattergun phrases; vignettes equally brushed in sarcasm, acerbic wit, & joyfulness; with just a trace of a Brummie accent betraying his original roots. He will blush when he reads this, but hey if I want to big up my friends, well it’s my blog innit? One day we’ll make it to his second home in Killenard, Ireland. He keeps inviting us, and one day we’ll make it but would have dearly loved to take Charlie, but sadly that is no longer possible (yet another Chapter – the last).

Part 3: Simon
One trip to Ireland we did make in Charlie was related in Chapter 5 - The Great Potato Famine of 1983. At the time Simon was a good mate & travelling companion. He was also the calming influence (the oil on troubled waters, if you will) that helped prevent Kath & I from tearing each other to pieces often when we went on holiday, which we usually did when he wasn’t there. To say we often argued loudly and incessantly is an understatement of gigantic proportions, and a small campervan in the middle of an unknown country, or even a known one, is not an ideal spot for conducting an all out war of words, but somehow, without Simon, we often managed it! He was our Henry Kissinger, whatever!

He was to become much more than this, & we now think of him as a member of the family. The loose-ish collection of people we’re honoured to call: thetribe. He’s really a second dad to the three lovely lasses referred to earlier as our daughters. He’s earned this respect through looking after the three of them while they were young; babysitting on a grand scale; changing nappies; rocking them to sleep; not complaining about the crying; helping to figure out what they might eat or not eat; what they might want or not want. It’s hard enough being a new parent, and kinda scary the first time round, bit Si did it at second remove all with unbounded enthusiasm & generosity, both with his time & spirit. He has helped us bring them up, and for this we are incredibly grateful.

Even now he buys them exorbitantly expensive presents, and leaps on flights to Edinburgh (where the older two live) to treat them to meals in gourmet restaurants, or just to give them a bit of support & encouragement when they need it and we can’t be there. He’s also great company, and knows just about everything about everything, without being a know it all!!

I’ll revisit more friends who’ve shared or journey with Charlie in a later chapter. To come: Paul, Ray, Alan, Ken, Andy and Angela, Dave and EV & Colette. 

The next one though will be about Festivals! 

Charlie, Me & KP
Simon & Charlie in Ireland