A thought occurred to me as I woke this morning: it is almost certain that in the next year or so, I will be attending two high school reunions. People who were in my year at school will start turning thirty-six from some time in September, and having attended high school both here in Devon, and in the town of my creation – Croydon, I’m bound to attend both.
Not knowing who organises these things, or whether twenty years since leaving school is really worth celebrating, I will wait for a notification on Facebook, or similar, and then panic about how many grey hairs I’ve accumulated in the ensuing years.
And it occurs to me, this is why we need social media. Having known my old friends during a time of youth and elastic bendiness, it won’t matter who has gone bald or joined a cult, who has done too much paint thinner or botox, or who looked like a hooker in her wedding dress. It won’t matter who looks like they entered an All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet in 1998 and never left. The joy of social media is that when it comes to the school reunion, nobody will look shocked. Of course, some of them can’t, now.
I haven’t seen my old school friends in over twenty years, having left Croydon when I was thirteen, when my parents were looking to retire to the countryside. Without the little view into their lives which is afforded to me by social media, they might all be frozen in my memory in their thirteen year old guises. Therefore, seeing them thirty-sixing it next year, which I’ve decided now is a foregone conclusion, might have been unnerving.
Some of my friends, both near and far, haven’t changed at all: it’s the Kevin Bacon school of ageing. I fancy I would recognise them, just walking down the street, in a second or two. Others though, and I include myself in this, are unutterably altered by hardships, drink and cheeseburgers.
It must have been very awkward for those who came before, and went to their high school reunions, only to find they had to reintroduce themselves to ex-girlfriends and former friends. To find oneself in a room of formerly familiar friends, a room of people with whom one spent every achy day of a misspent youth, and having to sneak glances at name badges without detection must have been excruciating.
For a long time, working at the bar, I used to call everyone ‘buddy’. My accent is somewhat muddled and as such, I think I got away with it for rather longer than I might have done if I’d kept the pallid Home Counties tone that my mother tried so hard to instill in me.
One Saturday, we hosted a wedding reception. It was an extraordinarily busy day, starting in the afternoon and pushing right through until late. We had a row of fourteen optics on the back wall of the bar. All the bottles had at least one spare in the cellar. We burnt through five of the optics completely, and wound up with no vodka, Archers, Malibu, Gordon’s, nor Southern Comfort in the building. The empty measures stood on the wall, abandoned, for a good week and a half after that night.
At one point, before we ran out of everything, a chap came up to the bar and asked if I could make a hot chocolate, and a vodka and coke.
“No problem, buddy,” I answered, and got cracking.
He looked at me for a good few seconds and then retired with his hot chocolate to the other side of the room, and had a brief chat with a lady I’d known for a long time. When he returned for the vodka and coke, he told me he’d been speaking to his mother, who told him my name, and of course: I knew who he was.
I was startled.
I didn’t know who he was.
When I had a moment, I spoke to his mother.
His name was Buddy.
Quite quickly, I started calling everyone at the bar ‘my friend’. There’s very little chance anyone would call their child ‘my friend’.
The event was split in two. I had one barman working with me for the afternoon, another one for the evening.
I was there for the whole thing, but I was the one with an alcohol license. In the afternoon, the other barman and I worked excessively, drank very little and were given hog roast, which was both unexpected and gorgeous.
Similarly, the bride flashed her knickers.
In the evening, when the vodka was running low, the second barman arrived, and was soon sent down to the local off-license to pick up supplies. He was not a small man, yet somehow he managed to fold himself into my car, a small mustard yellow Fiat Seicento. When he returned, he brought with him a 70cl bottle of vodka. And that was all. That was sold through within half an hour, by which time the off-license was shut. It was at that point we started expatiating on the virtues of Archers and lemonade as the alternative booze du jour.
At that wedding reception, they had the biggest cheeseboard I have ever seen. It covered the pool table. All manner of cheeses, chutneys and physallis. I hadn’t had physallis before. I’d seen it, but always thought of it as more decorative than edible. It’s a little yellow fruit, with papery leaves, very pretty, goes beautifully with brie.
When I was working at the shop, a small boy came in and asked where we kept the pesto. I didn’t know what pesto was until I was twenty-four. When I was a child, the height of luxury was a slice of Viennetta.
The morning after the wedding, I was invited over for a breakfast, comprised of the food and drink they didn’t get through during the reception. With some authority I can tell you – coleslaw and pinot grigio are just perfect on a lazy Sunday morning.