There are moments in our lives when a smell or a sound or a place can bring memories flooding back. You just have to take some time out to think of what they may be and it opens all kinds of doors. I was fortunate to have a group of friends that I grew up with, went through school with and basically all we experienced or discovered early on in our lives, we did in one or the others company. We shared our highs and lows and laughed an awful lot together.
I try to remember the good parts in my life, the points where I found humour in a situation. The times where back then may not have been too funny but looking back now, are, just because it was so unbelievable. I find some things much funnier now than they ever were then. I think that comes with growing through life and realizing that the stresses and strains of yesterday were never, in retrospect, as great as I feared. But that realization is only reached with age and experiencing things that truly are difficult to deal with.
I think as time passes its easy to remember good times as great, and the not so good moments, the actual severity of those situations actually fade somewhat. It has to – or you’d never move on.
Whether that’s down to a personal view of past situations or not I can’t say. But on the whole I prefer to look at the things that have made me laugh when I reminisce or find a shiny thread of point in a memory that I can look back on and think
“Well, really, that unbelievable situation was funny when you look at it now..”
Most things are if you get the right spin on it.
One of my first “grown up” holidays, one I went on with friends rather than family took place some 27 years ago, 1987 with a group of lads I had known through-out my early years.
It was the time of Afflecks Palace on the corner of Church street when a bargain really did exist. 501’s were the rage, worn with a turn up on the leg. Long overcoats. The Cave shoe shop on Cross street that was mostly goth gear but sold some fabulously suede winklepickers. Corbierres Wine Bar off St. Anns square, down a little side alley and some winding stairs to a cave-like bar. Sitting and rolling Old Holborn ciggies in liquorice paper that had an aroma all its own. Then spending the next 10 minutes first smoking it, then picking bits of tobacco out of your teeth.
U2 in their pomp, with The Joshua Tree tour in full flow. Manchester was THE place to be with bands breaking onto the scene all the time. The Smiths had “Shoplifters Of The World Unite” and “The World Won’t Listen” out, The Stone Roses “Sally Cinnamon” and “I Wanna Be Adored” to name but a few, were in all our thoughts. Billy Bragg with political ideals and raw music that was like a sugar rush to idealistic teens. The Housemartins were in the charts. It was a band I had seen not long before at The International club in Manchester with the same friends arriving late and catching only the last few tracks of the then little known support band, The Proclaimers.
Who were unbelievable live.
The twins came to stand on the balcony where we were watching the set after their stint on stage and we took turns to go over and say
“Fantastic music lads! Whats the name of the band?”
And have one of them turn and look at us through their heavy black framed glasses, and say something completely unintelligible in that heavy Scottish accent of theirs.
“Aw great! Thanks lads! Fantastic! Did I say that already? Superb then!” and wander dazed like back to our waiting friends who would ask,
“Well? What did they say? Whats the name of the band??”
“No fucking idea. Couldn’t understand a word he said.”
“Dickhead. You just heard them singing! How hard can it be to ask a question? Did you ask??”
“Dickhead yourself! You have a go then.”
And the next person would wander over slap them on the back and nearly knock their glasses off with their enthusiasm and have the same conversation.
“Well?” when they came back,
“I not sure, but I think it sounded like he just threatened to kick the shit out of me or something.”
Caddy rolled his eyes.
“Jesus. Wait here ffs.” And off he went.
A few minutes later he was back looking smug.
He just stood and basked in the admiration thrown his way.
“You understood what they said?”
And we turned as one to look at the granite faced twins then back to Caddy.
“Nope. No fucking idea what he was blathering on about. I asked the girl stood next to them who they were.”
Ah. Why didn’t any of us idiots think of that.
He went far in life Caddy.
I had gone through school with all of them and we were still close enough then to be arranging holidays and have regular nights out together so-much-so that really it was part of our fabric of growing up. Most of what we experienced at the time we did mostly together. This was before University or working life changed some of those relationships due to distance or responsibilities that came with the impact of either. Most of those friendships still exist today, some still close, others tied together with the strands of what we experienced together growing up. Changed, but still there.
So when someone came up with the idea of going on a boat and sailing it round the Norfolk Broads water-ways for a week, stopping only to drink beer at lunch and evenings, well, it sounded like the perfect holiday. Previous holidays together had involved walking up and down remote hills in the Lakes in all weather, carrying everything you needed on your back. Mainly it was wet 90% of the time, with only blisters and banter (when you could catch your breath) to distract you from the weather or the miles, stretching away in front of you,(vertically mostly) to where that nights bed, and nearest pub beckoned. I can’t say those were my favourate holiday venues, the only thing making them worth-while for me, was the company and belly-aching moments of laughter with my friends.
So. It was decided and week of swash-buckling on the Broads beckoned..
There were 6 of us on this trip. Which involved travelling down to Norfolk to the staging point where we were to pick up our boat and given the do’s and don’ts of life on the river by-ways. Then we would fight over who was going to be Captain and actually drive the boat.
What actually happened was a monumental journey by train that seemed to go on forever. Norfolk wasn’t the easiest place to get to even by road back then. All motorways ended on what felt like the west coast of the country and the journey into Norfolk went via back roads and country lanes involving mules and camels.
With people when asked for directions, rolling a piece of straw between their teeth and saying,
“Arrr? Thee Arr. Thy oo-arr? Arrrrrrrrrrr.”
Lots and lots of “Arrrrrrrr’s” and “Oo-arrrrrr’s”.
Our journey into Norfolk was British rails equivalent to the road version.
As I recall it took some 500 trains and changes to complete the journey to I-don’t-know-where-the-fuck-I-am boat yard to collect our boat and begin our own personal Amazons and Swallows moment. The only good points about the journey was the beginning when we were excited, and then the final part where we joined the last train and found it was all private carriages, echoes of another age. It probably was. Stuck in time in the middle of no-where. What I can say is it added a bit of romance to the trip and raised spirits somewhat after a soul destroying journey.
When we finally reached our destination we were shown our new nautical vehicle then given the list of what not to do while on the water. The man giving us the talk was obviously eyeing the 6 young lads he was about to had over a part of his fleet to and was at great pains to impart his rules.
“Thee ‘av ‘an achor. Oo-arr?”
6 heads nod.
“Arrr lads? Life jackets? All times! Oo-arrr? Speeding? 5 to 7 mph. No speeding! Banks washed away! Arrrr??”
“Toilet? Needs emptying. Tha’ll all sink if ship’s not emptied but shit’ll float! Oo-arrrr?”
Distracted nods as eye each other and weigh up who’s going to do that job.
“Emptyin’ station”s. All over damn place. Use ’em. Arrr? Arr.”
I of course took no notice what’s-so-ever as there were more responsible members of the group like Barny and Caddy who would look after that sort of thing. Good, sensible lads. Could empty all the shit they wanted for me. I had more urgent things occupying my mind. I was going to be Captain , strike a heroic pose at the helm and issue orders no one would take any notice of.
In the mean time our “Oo-arrr” instructor continued.
“Life-Jackets? Over there. Arr? Try ’em on and get ship shape lads. Arr? Off you go then.”
So we moved like a small herd and clustered round a room rammed full of worn, orange life-preservers and began trying on what this chap passed out as he sized us up. We gradually began to line up, each standing ready to be inspected, each clad in their own personal buoyancy jackets with bits of string dangling in all the wrong places.
Until he finally came to Nick, and eyeballed him while holding a jacket in either hand, looking from either one trying to decide which would best fit.
See, Nick was short and stocky, carrying a bit of weight, all shoulders and no neck, and neither jacket quite fit. The right size for his height was meant for a tall child, but wasn’t wide enough to incorporate both shoulders in the jacket normally. To be able to fit both in meant his arms were clenched back from his torso while his shoulder blades met in the center making him look like he was impersonating a giant chicken. It looked as if a tension spring had given way in his back and yanked his arms behind him and pushed his chest out.
leaving Nick spluttering somewhat.
“Whaaaa.. Whaaa the…??”
There was no way it would fasten and it yawned wide open across the middle, so that a 12 inch gap was displayed across the chest and stomach, and the tie’s wouldn’t stretch across the space to fasten. And the next size life preserver swamped him.
So it was decided in the spirit of health and safety, that the best course of action was to choose the large one because it would actually fasten and it was funny. The collar rose above his head and the jacket encompassed his torso with plenty to spare. So that only his arms from the elbows and legs from the knees down were visible. At least in an emergency he could put it on and we could throw him over board and 3 or 4 clamber on top of him and paddle for the river bank, “Ahoying!” all the way.
He’d have been better off with arm bands and a swimming cap.
Finally we scrambled aboard our boat and there was an immediate rush for the steering wheel. Lets just say a scuffle took place over control, but Nick clad in a life preserver that would fit 5 men, barged his way in and created enough space to get concrete grip on the wheel. It was him who took charge of our departure, bouncing it off the dock a dozen times before finally reaching open water and then with a wicked grin and a,
“Fuck the rules!”
With a glint in the eye, Nick revved the engine to full throttle, rammed it in gear, and found out just how fast 5 mph was.
Each bend in the river suddenly took on a vastly different perspective and looked a very long-way-away. The first bend alone seemed to have somehow been stretched further away from us all of a sudden.
I think we all stood along side him, gazing ahead for some time, trying to draw the first turn closer by sheer willpower, then exhaustion set in and one-by-one we wilted and wandered off, leaving Nick to it.
It was decided there and then.
Nick was now our Captain and he could drive all he wanted.
Part 2 to follow…