Fond Memories in the Dark

I am just back from a trip to Gateshead where I attended the funeral of a good mate who sadly passed at the age of 64. His untimely death a deeply saddening denouement to his stoic battle with a cruel illness.

Geographical barriers since relocating from Gateshead in 1987 have meant our rendezvous weren’t as frequent in the intervening years. However, whenever opportunity to meet arose, our whimsical verbal jousting started right back where it left off.

A kindred spirit, we had lots in common. Both of us shared similar senses of humour, the Christian name Gary and our eldest kids bear the monikers Jonny. In a further uncanny coincidence neither of us represented England at Quidditch…… Or indeed any other sport.

I used to work at the British Coal headquarters in Gateshead where I met my late buddy. Our friendship blossoming when he taught me how to whistle the Bulgarian national anthem. My ability to recite the Barnestoneworth United team from 1970’s BBC TV comedy Ripping Yarns bizarrely endearing me to him. 

Despite him being a Sunderland football supporter who frequently reminding me of his team’s 1973 FA Cup final win over Leeds United (LUFC), we bonded as friends. Although I was often moved to playfully inform him to take his FA Cup winning gloats and shove it up his arse!

As alluded to earlier, I didn’t see as much of Gary as I would have liked since leaving Gateshead. A move forged from a youthful desire to seek my fortune. Not to mention avoiding his endless f***ing bragging about Sunderland winning the FA Cup at Leeds’ expense.

When opportunity arose for a meetup, though, there was no uncomfortable small talk upon meeting. We immediately set about playfully winding each other up or reminiscing about some past jocular episode.

Gary was a key mentor in nurturing my fondness of inappropriate humour. This mischievous tutorage included a limerick starting ‘The was a young lass from Regina”… Yes, so he is the one to partly blame for my occasional dalliances with questionable gag content.

Despite being in the midst of pretty stringent treatment at the time, he visited my Wakefield apartment in March this year. A tarry where he displayed reasonably good spirits throughout. 

During his time here, amongst our adventures, we circumnavigated Pugneys Country Park, along with wandering the not inconsiderable grounds of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. This latter excursion, in the absence of any guide, seeing him and I (with tongue in cheek) pretentiously seek each sculptures meaning… Taking on the mantra of Pound shop Brian Sewells for a couple of hours.

A typical debate from that day played out when viewing the above edifice. 

Standing aside this feature, Gary and me each endeavoured to understand what the creator was attempting to relay to his/her audience with this piece of art.

My buddy opined he felt the jail bar design bore the signs of constraint and the deprivation of liberty. Perhaps, showing the artists desire to indicate the starkness of life and hindrances which restrain us while shuffling along this mortal coil.

Although utterly subjective, and no more or less valid, my interpretation was the antithesis of Gary the elder’s notion. GJ Strachan suggesting perhaps this construction signified the necessity of building a sturdy framework as a pre-requisite to fulfilling life aspirations.

Was he or I closer to the meaning’s truth?… Who knows and, to be frank, who the f**k cares. After all, bereft of their real meaning, our notions are purely speculative; deliberately pretentious banter aimed at augmenting our tarry’s whimsy levels.

As I was retrospectively unable to see reference of the artistic construction within the Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s website, potentially this structure might not even be one of the attractions thought-provoking exhibits.

Perhaps it was some sort of gaol, as the other Gary joking posited… However, with large gaps between each lumber plinth, I’m unsure which animal’s liberty could being denied by this structure. It’d have to be a big beast; an elephant, maybe?!

Incidentally, I’m of course using artistic licence at this juncture. Clearly, the building won’t be a restrictive elephant pen. I don’t know Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s trustees, however I’m pretty sure they will be individuals who would baulk at any suggestion of turning any part of their land into a zoo… Well, unless they aspired to changing the attraction moniker to the Yorkshire Elephant Park.

Yes, Gary and I never conclusively got to the bottom of this linear sculpture’s message. However, despite that knowledge void, I’d suggest the fact this wooden construction spurred intensive debate about its artistic merits/meaning was a good thing. Our in-depth review and critique surely what the artist and YSP trustees seek from viewers of their idiosyncratic exhibits.

Irrespective of its raison d’être (whatever the heck that is), this structure led to me penning a few hundred words into its meaning. If I were the pieces designer, I would be chuffed something I’d created sparked such debate.

I’ll remember with fondness my lost friend and yours truly’s pretentious and absurd art critiques that day. The occasion a typical example of how, despite the grim existential episodes we both suffered in the past decade, we could always impart humour into the starkest of situations.

On his final night in Wakefield, due to feeling unwell after our day out, Gary declined a bottle of his favourite real ale. Telling me to save it. Positively proffering he would drink it when we embarked on our planned campervan trip.

Sadly, his health was not good enough to participate on that trip and his real ale vial remains in my wine rack, even at his October passing. Now, when passing the rack, witnessing this glass bottle of IPA evokes feelings of melancholy and a deep sadness for my fallen friend. 

As always on these sad occasions, I got to meet up with individuals who I had not seen for decades. One lad a former classmate at Heathfield Senior High, Tim Atkinson. An upbeat lad back then, it was good to see he still looks on the sunny side of life. I was going to write his glass is always half full, but the speed he was drinking at Monday’s wake it was frequently empty!

Another old pal I met up with for the first time in a while was Godfrey Keefe, or Godza as everyone calls him. An old cricketing teammate and drinking buddy back in the 1980’s, the 6ft 4in Gateshead lad looked well. His new pastimes of bowls and knitting introducing a calmness in middle age which eluded him into his younger years… That being said, his recent knitting of a complaint letter to Tyne Tees TV over the network’s lack of knitting shows displays there is still has a feisty side to him.

On the sad occasion of Gary’s funeral service it was good to see Ian Watson, an old workmate from my Coal Board days back in the 1980’s. He hadn’t changed… Yeah he still had the same f***ing clothes on he wore last time I saw him in 1987!!… Scruffy get!

Anyhow, after a fitting service in tribute of Gary, we retired to the Coach House pub on Low Fell, Gateshead. Here we toasted him and paid our respects with a wealth of tales about how he touched all of our lives.

Rest in peace, Gary… Thank you for all the many great memories you left me with. Especially those laughs!… Oh my god, those wonderful, wonderful laughs!

1 Comment

  1. morning, may you be comforted by such wonderful memories. SUCH a fitting tribute, you can write my obit anytime should the time come and I go first. lovely quite lovely.

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