Two old goats for neighbours on my travels – or L to R Alfie, Me
Bimble (v) walk or travel at a leisurely pace
Thanks to my old school pal Fred Parker, who gave me this word in response to my question in Five Go Off to Stealth-camp.
The eponymous Alfie (AKA Roger Hinde) is the very old friend I referred to yesterday and the story of our reunion is as follows: I was in Nantwich Library trying to sign on (a soap opera in itself) when I heard this voice proclaim, “You’re not allowed in here!”
“Bollocks,” I said to myself, then turned to see Alfie, looking no different from when I last saw him some ten years ago as he visited my apartment in Castlefield Manchester. At the time I was Coronation Street Story Editor and his visit was a welcome break from the very long hours of creative toil.
Now, at the grand old age of 66 (same age as my brother Podge – they went to the Grammar School together) there was still the boundless energy and twinkle in his eye. In his younger days when he was treading the boards he would’ve passed for a David Essex lookalike with his cheeky grin and Romany ruddiness. “The years have treated you well Alfie,” I said mid-manhug. But how wrong I was, as he soon went on to tell me he’d had cancer for five years and nearly died.
I’ll go deeper on this later but first I’ll describe the buoyant reunion of us two old goats as I invited him aboard the Ottermobile for a brew. Because with Alfie you never get to finish a story – much like a soap opera. As conversation fizzles, you’re energised and carried away on the tide of wit and keenness. You try to compete with his joie de vivre and the stories it offers. Your anecdotes are wittily interrupted by his, and the chat crackles into creative avenues you didn’t realise were on the A to Z. In a nutshell you’re inspired.
One of our reminiscences was about “bimbling” through the English and Welsh countryside, normally via river or canal, a pursuit we followed often, and often with fishing tackle on our backs. As I touched on yesterday, we once fished at the Tern Mouth of the River Severn, where he knew barbel liked to chew Spam. I’d never seen a barbel before, let alone catch one, so imagine my surprise and delight when I pulled out this beautiful huge fish, before of course putting it unharmed back in the water. But as always with these things there has to be a cloud, in the form of Alfie’s sulking because my barbel was bigger than the tiddler he reeled in! He will of course dispute this claim.
Back in the day, and I’m talking twenty-odd years ago, along with other arty projects we formed a theatre company called Grand Junction with a view to touring a series of playlets about the history of Crewe’s railways. But we got bogged down in all the politics of Equity and the Independent Theatre Council so the project was back-burnered. Also my 18-month work in Rwanda impeded matters somewhat. This was the selfish pursuit of a career that I’ve referred to earlier, which meant leaving friends behind… and ultimately the disintegration of my first marriage.
Anyway amid these and other unfinished yarns, he had coffee, a bag of crisps and a bar of chocolate from the Ottermobile larder; pretty much my weekly ration. And I realised that despite his health scare he still had that ravenous appetite to eat seven more potatoes than a pig. And he didn’t even bother to wash his cup, the fucker. But I forgave him that omission as he described how close to death he’d been, which made crockery pale into insignificance.
But for me it also put things into perspective as he recounted that when it was “touch and go” he received many visitors genuinely offering help and favour, but then when he recovered these visits gradually abated – a story of fair-weather friends and their disappointment that Alfie didn’t die, that Alfie had this indomitable determination to pull through and prove to the bastards he wouldn’t shuffling off the coil without protest. Hence I observed parallels between his story and mine, and the realisation of what’s really important, what life is really all about ie. its delivery of friends and loved-ones, which are more important through thick and thin than any politics or any wealth a career might afford.
Mine and Alfie’s bromance was a mini soap opera with its highs and lows. We’d chew the fat, set the world to rights, deconstruct the arts of writing and acting and downright act the goat. We’d fall out like lovers do, and rein each other in from our propensity to get carried away with an idea. He’d be grumpy and truculent and I’d coax him into working that energy into script and performance. I’d be down and he’d lift me with a well-timed pun or a “nosegay” of Pete and Dud or a snippet from Last of the Summer Wine.
And I’m happy that the bromance will now be rekindled. We’ll probably write together again, free from the shackles of politics, unleashed from the need to please others. We will have fresh adventures from the Ottermobile. And we will undoubtedly bimble. But above all, we will laugh and laugh.
Old goats at the cricket – L to R, Compo, Clegg, Foggy, supporting cast