Business As Usual

In which The Author bumps into an old friend

Saturday was a surprisingly busy day in the pub. My friends Wayne B. and Liz the Good Twin got married in the afternoon, and a few of the gang made their way into town afterwards. Kath S. marked her 40th birthday in grand style as well, so an overlapping circle of friends were on a pub crawl from Trecynon to Aberdare. Shannon and her friends were marking their last weekend before they all head off to university. Joseph was home too, and called into see his cousins. Gaz and some of the football fans arrived, and by late evening the place was packed.
It’s funny how an ‘old man’s pub’ has been transformed into the most popular place in Aberdare in a short time. It turned into a very late night, by all accounts. I left just after one o’clock, and there was no sign of it winding down. When I called in yesterday, most of the family were on soft drinks and feeling rather sorry for themselves. Shannon, remarkably, was quite perky and had a bottle of cider to start the afternoon off, much to everyone’s disgust. Bloody kids!
With so many people in there on Saturday night, it came as a hell of shock when I turned round and came face to face with Gareth L. I haven’t seen him for about ten years, and I haven’t spoken to him since July 2001. I’d heard on the grapevine that he’d gone to Australia, where his partner Anne had lived before she came over here. However, the Aberdare Bush Telegraph is notoriously unreliable, so I didn’t know whether it was true or not. (For example, at least twice I’ve seen someone in town whom I’d been told had passed away. Either I see dead people, or there’s a remarkable quantity of bullshit in the mix. You decide.)
If you’ve come by this blog relatively recently, I’d better explain that Gareth L. and I were good friends until I met Anne’s daughter Emma. It took only eight days for our friendship to be torn apart by a lethal combination of heartbreak, beer and stupidity. You can read the full sorry account for yourself in From a Land Down Under.
After the events of that week, I’d found it impossible to face Gareth and Anne again. Even though what happened wasn’t his fault, I’d decided that I was better off keeping out of their way, for fear that we’d descend into an almighty slanging match (or worse).
When I saw him standing next to me at the bar, I didn’t know what to expect. It was a classic awkward moment, of the sort you see in films and soaps. However, we greeted each other cordially and started chatting as though the intervening thirteen years had never taken place. After a couple of minutes, Gareth told me that he was back was because Anne had passed away in Australia. I was shocked. She was quite a bit older than him, but even so she must have been relatively young by modern standards. He didn’t go into details, I offered my condolences, and then we carried on chatting about nothing.
He called in for a pint again yesterday, and once again we lost ourselves in nostalgia about the good old days in Aberdare. In fact, Gareth had come to mind a few days ago, while I was listening to the BBC’s latest Radio 4 on Music podcast. It was a frank interview with Robert Wyatt, and at one point he mentioned that he only rated three British pop groups: The Beatles, The Kinks, and Madness. I remembered a trip to Cardiff with Gareth one day, years ago, when he bought a multi-CD compilation of Madness hits, b-sides, LP tracks and rarities. It crossed my mind then to wonder how he was.
[A digression: The trip in question was one of my semi-regular visits to the theatre. I’d roped Gareth in to see Yasmina Reza’s hilarious play Art in the New Theatre. We met up with Jo R. from work, and the three of us took in a Saturday matinee performance before going for a drink afterwards.
The play is a three-hander, and we saw a touring production with Nigel Havers, Barry Foster and Roger Lloyd Pack. It was an absolute joy to watch, but there’s a sad postscript to this little digression. A little while later, the same company took the play to the West End. I was listening to Steve Wright’s radio show one afternoon, and Nigel Havers was one of his studio guests, talking about the play. When the hourly news bulletin came on, one of the items was an announcement that Barry Foster had died.
Presumably Mr Havers, who must have still been in the BBC studios at the time, would have been unaware that he’d be taking the stage with an understudy that night. Roger Lloyd Pack died in January this year. Neither he nor Barry Foster were especially old. To think that two of the three people we saw on stage in Cardiff are no longer with us is rather depressing.]
Quite often in my life, if I think about someone I haven’t seen for a while, I bump into them a couple of days later. It still came as a shock to see Gareth, though, especially as he’d been in Australia for a long time. I’m pleased to say that we were able to resume our friendship pretty much where it had broken off, thirteen years earlier. Anne’s name didn’t come up at all yesterday, and – so far, anyway – Emma hasn’t been mentioned either. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about her since Gareth’s sudden reappearance. In fact, I don’t think a single day has passed since July 2001 without her coming to my mind for some reason or another.
But what would the point of even asking about her? My life has changed drastically, and hers will undoubtedly have changed as well. She might be married with kids of her own by now. There’s no earthly possibility that the two of us would be able to pick up where we left off, as though nothing had happened since. So far, Gareth and I seem to have handled the seamless edit with considerable panache, but if Emma’s name does come up in conversation, I’m not sure I even want to know how she is any more. For the time being, though, it’s business as usual for the two of us, and that’s the way I’d like it to stay.
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