Wednesday, 12 January 2011

An apology to George S. on his birthday

January 12th has become a melancholy day for me and not because the 13th is my birthday. The alternative to birthdays doesn’t appeal. As Andrew Marvell wrote: “The grave’s a fine and private place/But none I think do there embrace.” No, the day has come to represent lost friendships and severed family ties.
Today is the birthday of George S. We were together at primary school 60 years ago. Our mothers were friends; the nearness of our birth dates meant that even once we were adults George remembered one way or another to reach me on my birthday.
That was until about 10 years ago. I didn’t realise how much I valued those annual phone calls until they stopped. You’ll notice I made no effort to find George on the 12th. It would be nice to think he’s alive and happy somewhere in the world even though there’s no chance of a call tomorrow.
We were chalk and cheese. I was bookish and moody, he was a happy soul, sporty and adventurous – at well over 6 feet George was to play water polo at international level and join the Royal Navy. The last time we spoke he was managing a corporation swimming pool; I can't swim.
Growing up I grudgingly accepted his friendship. I accompanied him - once only - trainspotting, to a cricket match, and a military tattoo.
He was a fan of the Goon Show – a madcap radio programme of the 1950s. George would impersonate the characters’ voices at an embarrassing volume. As adults we hardly met to face to face – and not only because our jobs separated us geographically.
George had the annoying habit of calling women “lasses” – a nod to his Scottish ancestry. Perhaps I saw a wedding photo or he just told me, his marriage was a uniformed swords-out, guard of honour affair.
That’s about it. Sorry, George, I was such an unworthy friend, and, well, happy birthday.

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