Irritated by the unremitting optimism of New Year’s Eve parties, I and a number of chums at “The Blue Swan” decided, some years ago, to hold an end of year party instead, held on the 30th December in that period otherwise identified as being the social wilderness between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
There were only six of us normally, and this year we are reduced to five because Clive had had too much of the “Live life to the max” thing and decided to die in late June of this year. Among his notable career triumphs was a period as the Lord Mayor of our proud and noble town, and so the church was full of people who felt they should have known him, together with his wife and children who, it must be said, had seldom seemed happier in the time I had known them, but that may be another story.
It’s a bit too soon after his “passing” or “shuffling” or whatever the euphemism of the moment is to write the cutting edge biography of a man of whom it might be said that “He never knowingly bought a round of drinks,” so we will leave his biography in the comforting anteroom of truth.
Moving on, and the five remaining stalwarts of the club were finally assembled, pints in hand, and Geoff, the most pompous among the throng, took it upon himself, as always, to be “Chair” as we call it now, and went round the table from left to right asking us all for our best memory of the year, “retrospectively speaking” as a journalist might say.
The first person called upon, Sam Hislop, or “Jammy” as he was known, placed his drink on the table, looked towards the door, possibly to check if any passing sage or bookmaker were about to enter the premises, and said, “It’s over: that’s about the best thing I can say” and raised his glass to his lips taking a soothing sip of that nectar which blunts our awareness of the every-day.
Our custom was not to cross-examine each other on our statements so a short period of nodding, slurping and pursing of the lips followed. I was second and mentioned winning the “Largest Marrow” prize at the village autumn fair which got more nodding, slurping and lip pursing from the group, but this time, I must be honest, I think it was because my statement came dangerously near to boasting or “Crowing,” both of which were not welcome in our fraternity, but it had been a couple of decades since I’d had anything to crow about so I just threw caution to the winds.
On we went, making our revelations or observations or recollections: I like to get my words right but I can’t quite “Nail” the description here. Now we came to Colin, who used to be a “Copper” or police officer to the uninitiated, and was the quietest member of the group, although not the least observant, which I suppose goes with the territory.
“Getting engaged” he said, and this was a bit different, because none of us were under seventy and getting engaged at that time of life indicates, to me at least, that you’ve missed life’s important lessons and more besides, although I wouldn’t say that to the wife.
“Who to?” Nick asked, a painter of sorts “And still to reach his best” as he always said. “Jane” said Colin which raised a few eyebrows because Jane was the widow of the recently departed Clive, and therefore known to us all.
You could sense a stiffening of the atmosphere because friendship has its code’s, and not fancying the wives of men in your circle is one of the first rules of social stability.
“I wanted to be with her her” he explained, which raised more eyebrows and then I said, “That was quick,” trying to lighten the mood, because I was always “The joker in the pack” and he replied, “Not really, we’ve been lovers for thirty years and I just wanted to make an honest woman of her” which is fair, I guess: him being a policeman after all.
Of course, his answer raised more questions than it answered, but that’s life I suppose, which is something you know if you’re seventy or over. Apart from a gulp or two, nothing further was said: it’s always the same with important questions don’t you find?
I mean my wife was “Second choice” if truth be told, but I’d never say that to her face would I, because that would be rude and, if life teaches you anything at all, it is that manners mean more in the every-day than meaning, because manners are a matter of survival while meaning is a subject reserved for prophets, and I was never one of those.