It was a bond initially forged in September 1983. This 20 year guy, slender of build, whimsical of persona deciding to end his capricious relationship with a financial clerical role, moving into hallowed computer hall at British Coal’s Gateshead head offices.
The previously unfulfilling work mistress dispensed with for a new employment amour of computer operations. A move still not playing to GJ Strachan’s strengths, but he felt it was time for a different set of workmates to experience the pleasure of his ‘great’ jokes; not to mention the pay was better.
Within the first few minutes in the new role I met Alan Mudie and Bill Brown. The former five years my senior originally from a mile higher up the Low Fell bank than me. A man whose resplendent moustache and slightly melancholic gaze giving him the look of Canadian snooker player Cliff Thorburn
The latter from Houghton-le-Spring, twelve years my senior who communicated in a broad Mackem brogue. His words bearing an almost poetic whimsy, including numerous colloquialisms I’d never previously heard.
Locutions I’d venture that’ve never warranted a mention in Doctor Johnson”s dictionary, although if I’m honest it’s not something I’ve researched. However, I’m gonna go with my gut feeling that Dr J’s lexicological bible has never included the words marra, chetty watta, gan yehm, slack knacks and haddaway & ballicks……. Although, coming to think of it, the words haddaway and ballicks may not have been Durham expressions, they may’ve been his Hetton-based solicitors.
Anyhow, that inaugural meeting with Alan and Bill was the catalyst of a friendship that blossomed over the following thirty six years, building a bond that means the craic (as Bill calls it) carries on from the last meeting, be that weeks, months or years.
Over those four decades, the two becoming like elder brothers to me. Mentors who patiently guided me through my years of immature words/deeds; relocating with me to work in London 4-5 years later; along with becoming godparents to my eldest child in 1990.
The spiritual guidance they bestowed on my son Jonathon so in-depth and thorough my boy arrived into adulthood knowing the first five lines of the hymn ‘We Plough The Fields And Scatter’, along with being the proud owner of a Billy Graham tea-towel.
The reason I’m writing about my two north eastern buddies is I’ve spent the last three days in their company at Alan’s Bedfordshire home. Castle Mudie being Bill (who moved back up north after his 2017 retirement) and my (I moved back up north in 1996) temporary domicile after we travelled to celebrate Alan’s retirement from the company where all three of us have worked at various junctures.
Bill and my motivation for the journey not really to celebrate the big man’s transition into retirement. Moreover, we reckoned for the price of a retirement card each we could eat the former Gateshead lad and wife Jayne out of house and home…… And we weren’t wrong!!
As I sit at Mr M’s patio table on a beautifully sunny Dunstable day, I’m accompanying by the soothing sounds of birdsong, an ice cream van and a distant barking dog. Incidentally, by distant I mean the canine bark is emanating from several gardens away, not the the furry little fella looks vacant and distracted.
Bill and Alan have gone to get some food for a barbecue and Jayne is at her families, so I’m perched in solitude, shaded by a parasol and wondering why Bill’s first words after being told by Alan we were going to have a barbecue were “Can we get some pineapple?!”
An enquiry made in an almost childlike manner by the sixty-something Mackem. Alan promising him he’d try his best to fulfil William’s request, but with a caveat he finished his homework like a good lad and that Frank’s Pineapple Emporium on the A5 was open.
The request for pineapple on a barbecue quite baffling, it’s use as a ‘go to’ outdoor grilling ingredient so rare that even Alexa was flummoxed when asked by Alan to provide him with barbecue recipes incorporating.
My Mackem marra, though, claims pineapple is a widely used ingredient amongst the former pit villages which once served the Durham coalfield with it’s workforce. Excessive user that lead to the 1991 Hetton-le-Hole Pineapple Famine.
The barbie will be Bill and I’s final supper before Bill drops me off in Leeds tomorrow, before his onward journey to Durham.
We’ll meet again, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.