By tradition I and a number of chums at “The Last Resort” decided, some years ago, to hold an end of year party on the 28th December in that period identified as being in the social wilderness between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
There were normally six of us but this year we were reduced to five because Clive had had too much of the “Let’s live life to the max” thing and decided to die in late June. Among his notable career triumphs was a period as the Lord Mayor of our proud and noble town, and so, at his funeral, 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” 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 add his biography to that comforting list of yet-to-be-started masterpieces.
Moving on, 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 now call it, 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, “The year is nearly 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 from last and mentioned winning the “Largest Marrow” prize at the village autumn fair which came dangerously close to boasting: 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.
Finally 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 age indicates, to me at least, that you’ve missed out on one or two important lessons in life, although I wouldn’t say that to the wife.
“Who to?” Nick asked, a painter of sorts “And still to fulfill his promise” 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” 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 discover by the time you are seventy. 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 tactless and, if life teaches you anything at all, it is that manners are more important in the every-day than meaning, because manners are a matter of survival while meaning is just a subject reserved for prophets, and I was never one of those.