“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” – the Story of a School Reunion

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If you’re a depressive, like me, there are loads of things you can do about it.  You can drink the blues away, only for them to come back in spades.  You can mope and feel sorry for yourself, only to make the blues turn ‘orange’.  You can feel that life’s not worth living, only to realise you’re not brave enough to take it away.  Or, you can say it is worth living, let’s look on the bright side of it and let’s be pro-active…

You can join a gym and conjure the magic of endorphins.  You can apply for jobs and tell those in a position to engage that you are there and you’re not going away and you’re interesting and yes, engaging.  You can look at things that are so easily taken for granted – your home if you’re lucky to have one, your talents if you’re blessed, and your nearest and dearest if you pause to consider you’re so much richer for having them.

Or, you can have a school reunion…

Since last September a beautiful woman and I (with the help of a few other special people) have been meeting, discussing, debating, planning and staying awake at night thinking about how nice it would be to meet those we schooled with 38 years ago.  How great it would be to get as many of them as possible in the same room, to see how they’ve done, how they now roll, and indeed how they now look.

So allow me to indulge and embroider the back-story, which for me and this story is vital – it provided some salient and profound “station stops” on my travels both geographical and psychological.  Loyal readers will know that last year was spent for the most part living on the Ottermobile, travelling (or often breaking down in) various parts of the UK.  I enjoyed and endured highs (seeing beautiful scenery and meeting wonderful people to write about) and lows (running out of tobacco and being attacked by a couple of hooded knob-heads).  But during that time a beautiful woman contacted me via Linkedin and we ‘chatted’ a while, not least about our school days together, and one day she suggested it might be a good idea to have a reunion.

So I said yes let’s chat more and gave her my number.  Some weeks later I was heading for North Wales and arranged to call in on her in Cheshire, where I took her out to dinner.  As we drank wine and reminisced, I mentioned the time I asked her out at school and she said “no” and that was the story of my life.  But anyway we of course stayed in touch and the issue of reuniting with our peers, ignited some weeks before, was now beginning to burn.

In the months to follow, with the aforementioned “committee” and social media playing their part, the fire burned ever more brightly and, last Saturday night, 60 or so of us convened for the Nantwich & Acton Grammar School Class of 1980 Reunion.  And what a night!

I realise that many of you readers are not NAGS Alumus but I want to describe some of what happened because for me as a writer it was fascinating, for me as a person it was enormously significant.  Of course there was music and food and lots of booze in a room crammed with people, but the room was also crammed with a great deal of laughter, reminiscence, wit and bantering exchanges of story, and above all love.  The buzz was incredible and the  energy amazing, proving that for those of us in our fifties there is still life, still action, and still the ability to behave like kids.  Inevitably some of us might’ve been nervous at first, or even scared, but these negative emotions soon gave way to joie de vive as we danced the night away and finished up linking arms and belting out Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.  And inevitably, as with every party, there had to be someone whose role in life is to be the class idiot or drunken dad-dancer or dubious town-crier…

For me as a writer I prefer to hide behind a script, but for me as a person I felt bound to say a few words, such was my enthusiasm and drunkenness and propensity to make a bloody fool of myself.  But it was all genuine, all meant, and all-important to say what I truly believed.  Yes I probably spoke too long, more than probably repeated myself, quite possibly tried to be funny and more than definitely slurred my words.  But more than definitely they were genuine.

Talking of which, there has been an entertaining and heartfelt aftermath on social media and to illustrate the point I’d like to borrow the words of one of my school-friends, which I think beautifully sum up how I and many other people now feel…

So here we are. It’s Monday night and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Saturday night. I was scared at first, but then overwhelmed to see everyone, then [I felt] euphoria. Mandy, Mark, Kay and Dave…thank you for a fantastic night, you have no idea how much you have touched me. Ruth, I cannot thank you enough…. you found me when I didn’t know I even existed. So many wonderful people to meet again. I’m so sorry if I didn’t get to speak to you all. I regret not spending more time with those that I did. 48 hours on and I have an overwhelming melancholia because for now I can’t see you all, crazy to learn after 38 years that I miss all of you so much. All that I ask is that we see each other sooner rather than later and that life treats you all well until we next meet. There is a big hole in my life that you all fill and I didn’t realise it until now. I wish you all only the best of life and hope to see you again very soon – D.

I am touched by D’s words, and even more touched to glean that in all the aftermath there are ongoing stories and sub-plots in development, stories and sub-plots that began nearly forty years ago and will unravel for years to come.

As I say, school reunions and the descriptions of such are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I needed to post this because it was such a massive deal to me after such a difficult year and it was great to see that so many people looked so well, behaved so well and have clearly done so well, and that being 54 doesn’t mean there’s nothing left in the tank, nothing left to say and nothing left to do.

So thank you for indulging me because it really did me the world of good.  The year has started well, I’ve been pro-active, I’ve joined the gym, my career does look like it’s being rekindled.  But that isn’t all the story, because I have a confession to make, a sub-plot to bring to the surface…

I had an ulterior motive in giving my number to the beautiful woman, because I wanted to ask her out again.  And this time, after 38 years, the answer was “yes”, and that’s the greatest and happiest reunion of all.  Because this is a story not just about nostalgia, or about celebrating and looking on the bright side of life, it’s actually a tender and profound love-story.

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Merry Eczema & A Happy New Year

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It was three degrees on the Ottermobile last night, so with me and three beautiful women it was a tight squeeze.  If that were true, I wouldn’t have been much use to them; with temperatures like this your willy tends to disappear.  But I shouldn’t joke.  In fact I don’t feel very much like joking, I’m just aware that some of my writings of late have been downbeat and I want really to entertain.

Yet the truth is that this experience is becoming nigh-on unbearable, and I’m feeling very angry on behalf of myself and those even less fortunate.  I admit it, in the Summer months I was happy on the road, in beautiful weather and even more beautiful surroundings, soaking up the exercise and the stories, and not envying in the slightest those stuck in offices and putting up with the petty politics of back-stabbing.

Now, as we head into the festive season and more importantly towards my 54th birthday, and with the temperatures plummeting, I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching.  In other words, wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life and what the hell it’s done to me.  Incidentally, am I alone in marvelling at the speed with which this year has passed us by?

Anyway, in the days around the corner when we’re supposed to be offering goodwill, I’ll be thinking less of myself and more of those I love and those I’ve met on these geographical endeavours, some of whom are unfortunate enough to be less fortunate than me.

Loyal readers will remember James, the homeless young chef to whom I offered a night’s sleep in my Ottermobile to save him temporarily from the streets, and I fed him and we played Ludo and he said he wouldn’t be coming on to me in the night lest I was worried, because I was far too past it.  I’ll be thinking of him and wondering if he managed at last to find some work, a home and a decent boyfriend of his own age with whom to share it.

Then the down-at-heel guy in Redcar who also lived on a campervan and had a bogie on his nose that fell dangerously close to my sandwiches which I’d kindly offered to share.  He was just like me (only less handsome) and I felt for him, and I’ll be hoping he’s made some hay since that red hot Summer’s day at the seaside when chips were down.

And the gypsy who lives on the motorways, to whom I gave food, tobacco and a ride to the next services and went ridiculously out of my way – a gesture of goodwill that dearly cost me in diesel and mechanical lifespan.  I’ll be thinking of him and hoping he’ll keep warm in his tent come the chill, or he’s made enough money to get him back across the Channel to find work in friendlier climes.

And Craig the youth from Newcastle who was chained bollock-naked to a lamp-post on his stag night.  I’ll be wondering if his lass still married him after that, and if they’ll be spending their first Christmas together in their nice warm home, possibly with a turkey and a bun in the oven.

And last but by no means least I’ll be sparing a thought for Steve in Saltburn, whose wife Tracy kept calling him a useless twat because he forgot the Ambre Solaire and she was worried the sun would exacerbate her eczema (or “exma” as she termed it).  He’d just lost his mother and their trip from Birmingham was supposed to be convalescence, but the sadness in his eyes was obvious, not just because of his bereavement but because he was married to Tracy, and because this was a toxic, flaky and inflammatory relationship that would take more than 100g of Betnovate to smooth things over.

I’ll be hoping he has a merry “Exma” and I’ll be hoping even more that he’s managed to get rid of that fat-arsed, irritable woman.  Because his story touched me most, touched me even more than that of the homeless men and women I’ve met, because I know what it’s like to lose a dear mother and I know how much one needs support through difficult times.  But given that many homeless people are homeless because of a broken-down relationship, I truly hope that if Steve does do what he confided, and leaves Tracy, he manages to keep his job, his home and his kids.

And then there’s me, who suffers from eczema himself but doesn’t make a song and dance about it because there are worse and more dangerous afflictions, such as depression.

But I’ll be trying not to let that get to me as I look towards a new year with someone I love and fresh hope.  I’ll be remembering all those who’ve helped me through difficult times and I’ll be remembering I’m still blessed with talents and the contortionists, like the dog, won’t win.  The contortionists, by the way, will be remembered too, and I’ll be hoping the poor rich bastards don’t lose too many nights’ sleep because of what they’ve done to me.

I turn 54 in the next couple of weeks and I think it’s time to face up to the fact that living in a van at my age in these temperatures will ultimately kill me.  I’ve lived in this thing now for 200 days and I always said it would be 365, yet I don’t look on this as failure.  I believe I’ve recounted many tales in this diary that are proof that what I’ve done has been successfully lucrative if not in the financial sense then definitely in the literary sense.  I firmly believe I’ve collected so much great material for my writings and met some great friends, and rekindled many old friendships too.  I firmly believe I’m a better writer.

In the coming days it’ll be cards I’m writing, but while I’ll know exactly where to send them, I wonder where people will send theirs when I’ve no address to address them to?  I like receiving cards, especially birthday ones, and that’s something I do make a song and dance about – I often joke to my kids that it’s important I reach double-figures.  Sadly, I can’t see that happening this year so I want to do something different and ask simply and politely that instead of buying me a card, would you please make a small donation to Shelter?

Anyway, while I’ll be offering goodwill at this time, because that is my wont, and while I’ll be doing a bit more soul-searching, I’ll also be doing some praying.  Some of my friends will be incredulous but it’s true.  I’ll be praying for all those I’ve mentioned and many more who’re homeless or unfortunate, and I’ll be praying for a brighter future for me, because I know it’s possible and I know it’s just around the corner.  I’ll also be praying that these frosty mornings don’t flare up my eczema!

But if there is a god, I should remember a god is for life not just for Christmas.