Sunday, 20 January 2013

living in the past

From the time that I could walk, he'd take me with him
To a bar called the Green Frog Cafe
And there were old men with beer guts and dominoes
Lyin' about their lives while they'd play
And I was just a kid and they all called me his sidekick . . .

I have recently been referred to as someone's "sidekick" when I was younger. I'm not sure whether the comment was designed to be pejorative or not but I did find it rather galling. The idea that I may not have had much of an identity of my own or that I was some wraith-like figure suggests our fleeting presence in each others lives.

Initially it made me feel like Guy Clark in Desperados Waiting for a Train but after a while it made me wonder about how we are perceived by others.  I have over recent years got back in contact from characters from my past: fellow travellers that shared formative moments with me. Obviously all the people I am personally back in contact with are people I liked, respected or had good times with. I guess sometimes we are thrown together on our journeys with fellow travellers that we never want to see or hear from again whereas we lose contact with people we'd love to at least hear from. As an old romantic I like to hear about how these people are getting on and whether or not Life has been kind to them. Even if we only had very brief journeys together.

Some of the chaps I "knew" for a very short time, some I have known for the majority of my life in some ways. And the word "chaps" was deliberately chosen as the people I'm talking about tended to be school friends (Boy's Grammar) or because I've been happily married for thirty years, getting in contact with females somehow seems out of the question. Maybe it's just my English Reserve . Having said that, a very good female friend and I do occasionally converse via email - she's an artist still in Hertfordshire. It's just nice to know that another platonic friend survived and is getting on well.

A few years ago the phenomenon of Friends Reunited was difficult to avoid. I did register just to see if anyone from the past did want to get back in contact. A few did, most didn't. There was one who tried writing but it seems that my replies never got through so he gave up. Not too worried personally about that one. Another is still a good friend and we do occasionally meet up to put the World right and to drink from the Well at the World's End (he'll understand).

On another occasion, I noticed a very good friend's details there and thought, but I know his phone number, we just haven't spoken for a couple of years. So I phoned his number. A hesitant female voice at the end seemed shocked that I should ask for him by name.

Evidently he had died a few months earlier on an operating table for a fairly minor op. Nobody had thought to let me know. I was devastated. The news came the same week that a very good friend of mine committed suicide. He was four years older than me - a contemporary of my sister - he was at the same school but we became great friends in the aftermath of school. You know, real life where age doesn't really seem to matter. That wasn't a good week, I can assure you.  The bitterness of not knowing about Hugh's death and not being told took a long time to recede. I was in his address book. Anyway . . .

So, many of us have survived in various ways. Some of us are successful, others have not always been lucky. But. But how do we actually perceive our friends? Why do we feel the need to get back in touch with characters from our past? For me it really is a matter of just wanting to know. I assume in many cases that I'll probably never meet some of them again. I have been able to meet some. One of these fellow travellers lives and works in the same institution that one of my daughter went to. At her graduation, I was able to pop in and meet up briefly - in fact we've met twice. Another one lives in France and yet another in Hong Kong - I'm not likely to see them again physically.  I guess it doesn't matter - the internet has changed everything, I suppose.

But I wonder what their abiding memories of me are? I wonder what we think when first we decide to get back in contact? The funny incidents, drunken nights, embarrassing moments, the gigs, the sheer pleasure of their company? Each of the people I am back in contact with bring a warm glow of a time (mostly mis-) spent together.

My eldest daughter came back home for a few weeks over Christmas. She told me that my blogs tend to have a nostalgic feel to them. If that is the case I do apologise to all.  I suppose now that the internet can accommodate everyone's memories through youTube and Facebook people can look back and find it all there. For most of us whose formative years were well before the advent of social notworking, we have to rely totally on our memories. If we can occasionally reminisce whilst keeping up with current happenings, that's not a bad thing. I don't actually think that I live in the past, or at least I hope I don't. But I guess I need to think about that carefully.

It's finally started to snow here in Suffolk. Perhaps I'll sit and stare at the logs burning and think this through. It's funny what can kick start a thought process.


Martyn Cornell said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with being nostalgic, as long as you're not stuck in the past and you're still doing plenty in the present. And when the rate at which people you know start dying - as is now happening to all of us past 50-odd - it's inevitable you're going to be reminded of times gone. My brother just emailed me a piece from the North Herts Comet about the retirement last week of my first chief reporter, after he spent 46 years working for the same paper. So of course, I've been thinking about my mere four years there - how could I not be? (Particularly as there was a picture in the paper of him and his wife - who is certainly not the woman I introduced him to who became his second wife ...) But I'm also thinking about my next blog post, which will be on a great Japanese beer and food tasting event I went to on Saturday ...

Incidentally, don't be too sure we won't have a jar some time - I'm not going to be in HK for ever.

Dave Leeke said...

Thanks, Martyn. I certainly hope we do meet up for a few beers. I haven't been commenting on your rather thorough blog as I am no expert on the stuff (but I know what I like!) and your followers are all very knowledgeable.

I was having a bit of a gloomy day twenty four hours ahead of the self-fulfilling prophecy that is the "Blue Monday" phenomenon. Also not being one of the 5000 reported schools that shut today had something to do with it. Our school is like the Windmill Theatre - we never close!

Brendini said...

Jesus! I hope you're not standing perfectly still in a nude tableau in front of your pupils.

Dave Leeke said...

Well, you know: Mr Gove has demanded we go back to traditional teaching methods.

Mike C. said...


I think the problem with the past is that it really has gone.

Some delusional but important part of my mind believes that if I were to go back to place X, everyone I used to know would be waiting there, at the age I last saw them -- a bit like walking into Cheers ("Norm!"), or coming home from college for Christmas.

The unfortunate fact is that there is no "replay" function that would enable one to say, "Look, I'm right, it was the way I remember it!" Contrary to what some people say, I have never owned a copy of "Henry the Human Fly", much less had a thing about it! But allegedly I did and in someone else's version of the universe presumably I always will...


eeyorn said...

Hi Dave,
I was talking with Zouk only yesterday evening about his sidekick comment. He assured me it wasnt intended as pejorative, he seems to think that he must have got to know you only after Mr Fuke went to Stevenage college.

For myself, although your name seems familiar, I still can't quite place you, probably due to my alcoholic excesses as a youngster and beyond. That we share such similar tastes in music suggests to me that you might have been the guy who introduced me and much of the AGS crowd to the first Queen album during the Julius Caesar production.

After working abroad for several years, I got in touch with a few of the AGS crowd via Ken Mills on Friends Reunited and met up with a few of them who are still local in 2003 - I've since lost contact again. See if you recognise any of these.

eeyorn said...

As for 'Henry' I'm still reasonably certain that MikeC did in fact have a copy, and his liking for the record led to the gang, led by Alan Bays, to mount a fairly sustained bit of piss-taking at AGS alleging that Mike was in fact a Morris dancer.

But as previously noted, my memories from those days are not as sharp as I'd like them to be.

Dave Leeke said...


Spot on comments: yes, the past has REALLY gone. The very idea that some of us seem to carry with us that if we meet an old flame or friend from the past, they will look exactly the same as we remember them, is preposterous.


Blimey, there's a lot to grapple with in those few sentences. Let me try.

Yes, the 'sidekick' comment really was a spur to get my thoughts racing. As I said a few comments back, I was in a grumpy mood on Sunday. Zouk is quite right, of course, he probably did first meet me after Rob started college. I was two years younger and left AGS abruptly on the last day of O' Levels when Burridge told me that, "We shan't be seeing you next year". Marching orders indeed. However, I first remember Zouk through my friendship with Jim (he lived a hop over the garages between Whitesmead Road and Four Acres).

As for the Queen experience: no, I never went to Shakespeare plays. I was, however, the main stage hand for "Noye's Fludde". Bill Pearman and I introduced he whole of Reading Festival to the first Queen album via my cassette and his car stereo. It was this that caused Bob Harris to clumsily dedicate "Keep Yourself Alive" on Radio 1 to "the friends of the person who drowned at the festival". I can't remember his name (Andy?), unfortunately as I didn't really know him but he was with our group (I was definitely in sidekick mode then).

As for the photo, I think I recognise the guy on the right vaguely, the one on the opposite side is, I think, John Buckingham. Tevor I recognise as he lives next to one of my best friends so I see him once or twice a year socially. Just don't mention "Blood On The Tracks" to him in the same sentence as my name.

Dave Leeke said...


As for me, I was the tall, skinny kid with the big nose who drank a lot. Now I'm the tall skinny bloke with the big nose . . .

Your second comment also requires answering.

I think that owning "Henry" was obviously so traumatic for Mike that his mind has blocked the memory - therapy may be the only way to bring back these memories to deal with it.

i believe that you danced "the incapable Morris" yourself. I remember a few sessions with them at Great Wymondly where I believe my friend and myself treated the Morris Team to our renditions of "The Nutting Girl" and "Cuckoo's Nest" when we were less than sober on one particular occasion.

Unfortunately, most traumatic events that need blocking stay firmly in my mind. The horror, the horror . . .

Dave Leeke said...

Apologies to all readers for the poor spelling in the previous comments - the laptop has started doubling up some letters, missing capitals and generally driving me insane.

For instance, I meant, of course, Trevor and I would never refer to myself using a lower case.

Perhaps my two fingered typing has reached the point where I can type quicker than I can think.

Mike C. said...

Alright, alright, I had THREE copies of Henry the Human Fly, but let's be clear about one thing: I went to Nobel, not AGS, for goodness sake.

I recognised Trevor after a bit, and you're probably right about John Buckingham (but didn't he used to have hair?), but who are the others?


Dave Leeke said...

There, it's always better to accept the truth, isn't it?

Glad the therapy's working.

Meanwhile, for Earth-dwellers, "Henry The Human Fly" by Richard Thompson (1972) is reportedly (probably apocryphally) Warner Brother's worst selling album of all time. And yes, I know it was released on Island in the UK.

eeyorn said...

OK: Left to right: John Buckingham, Dave Bennett, Trevor, David Dent and Ray Blaxhill.

These used to be vaguely regular about 2-3 times a year get-togthers for a pint and a laugh. Will retry contacting Ken to see if they're still going.

More incriminating/Who the hell's that? photos to follow on my blog soon, I suspect :)

I have already spoken to Mike and he has assured me that he considers no lasting damage occurred.

Which ironically is exactly what has happened to me, having embarked into the Morris Dance world when I was about 25.

My knees are shot so handy-waving is definitely a rare if painful pleasure. I still manage to play the Fool for Stevenage Sword Dancers.

Mike C. said...

David Dent! Now there's someone who knows about being bullied... I'm amazed he talks to anyone, much less shares a pint. Who on earth is Ray Blaxhill?


eeyorn said...

David indulged his passion for big cars and set up as a used car salesman specialising in Jags and the like. Did very well for himself.

Ray Blaxhill was in the B stream of our year and was part of the Tewin mob. He joined Barclays as a trainee and worked his up through the organisation over 40 years. Retired very comfortably at 55. Accepted a job as a part-time Consultant to Barclays a day after he retired :) Enjoys his golf :)

eeyorn said...

Ooh by the way were you involved in the Free/Roy Harper gig at the College, early 1970?

eeyorn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Leeke said...

Okay, really don't know about Messrs Dent and Blaxhill but I knew Dave Bennett. Actually, I knew his sister Lyn and they had parties at their (what seemed to a Working Class oik like me) posh house near the Roebuck. I thought he went to South Africa gold-digging.

John B I knew and did try to "talk" to via Friends Reunited but he didn't seem too interested (although he did reply) - still lives in Reading, I believe.

Tewin - isn't that near Datchworth and they had a swearing parrot on the bar? Or was that a bad dream after a bad prawn?

As for the Free/Harper gig, I mentioned this in a blog a few posts back. No, I was too young for that. I was also too young for Richard Goddard's gig at AGS where he put David Bowie and the nascent Spiders From Mars on - Sixth Form only, I believe.

By "B Stream" do you mean he was, er,less gifted than the rest of you? Because in our year group they made a special form for us - there were twelve of us in it. Our form room was the old library opposite the Head's Office. I think that, essentially, we were mostly of average intelligence with a couple of thickies, a fat Uncle Monty type, two gays and a complete airhead. Oh, that was me.

Andy Wright said...

Hi Dave.....Crikey this post has generated more interest by way of 'comments' than any of your previous offerings I think.
You are right, I do understand entirely about drinking at the Well at the World's End, we have done a fair bit of that over the years but probably nowhere near enough. I'm fine with 'nostalgia' and anyway the bottom line is I like how and what you write, so please keep it up. (By the way I thought you were the most magnificent Lead Stage Hand that ever trod the boards.......George Partridge was in total awe of you!)

Dave Leeke said...

Andy! Welcome back - a former member of the "B Stream" just mentioned - any comment on that?

I'll never, ever, forget a comment that George wrote on an essay of yours: "Have you been talking to Dave Leeke again?"

I think dropping a couple of bottles of beer on the last night of NF nowadays would have got me expelled! I seem to remember passing bottles up to you during the final night performance whilst you were on the Ark.

eeyorn said...

I realise with your gentle prodding that my previous might be taken as intellectual snobbery. Twas not intended, it was merely intended to say that Ray was in a different class and so I didn't know him very well at school.

Andy Wright said...

I do remember the beer passing service that you offered on show nights! I think they were bottles of Tubourg (I wonder if you can still get that particular brand......I guess Les Ransley would know) As for being classified as outside the academic and intellectual elite at AGS, well to quote my dear Dad ,'You did allright for a five O level boy son' and so did you Dave, so did you.

Dave Leeke said...


And I only got two O' Levels. It was indeed Tuborg - they shattered incredibly when coming into contact with a concrete floor.


No intellectual snobbery noticed, actually. Some of us in that class really were not "Grammar School" types - particularly me. I like to think that as I sank to the bottom of AGS I probably would have been at the top of Barclays.

However, to be truthful, I'd have sunk to the bottom there as well. And I would have been beaten up more by the Whitesmead bully boys.

But, all in all, Andy's dad was spot on.

Martyn Cornell said...

Andy Haigh was the guy who drowned: he was in the year above Bruce C and Mike at AGC, ie the year below me, and with me at Sussex Uni (because I took a year out) - Bruce was in the year below us at Sussex. I heard that he followed everybody else into the river for a midnight dip and was never seen alive again. I remember clearly ringing my parents from Brighton and being told he was dead, and going out and getting totally blattered.

Dave Leeke said...

Thank you Martyn - I should not have forgotten his name. I only knew him for a few short months and he seemed like a lovely guy. I can't forget going straight from the festival to St Ives (Cornwall) and as soon as I mentioned what had happened I think I wrecked several people's holiday as they were all good friends. So apologies to Ray Halliday and co. Unfortunately Nicky Hearman and I sat watching the river and saw the police pull his body out of the water. It was devastating for those older lads.

So many shortened lives. So many could-have-beens.

eeyorn said...

I missed out on much festival-going in my teens so didn't know Andy, though Zouk has told me the story. Very tragic. Did you or Nicky get any psychological support afterwards?

Dave Leeke said...

Nowadays there'd be Trauma teams and social workers and years of therapy with the baying packs of hyenas, sorry, lawyers circling close behind. But no, we probably went and had a drink,or in Nicky's case something slightly more herbal.

I only mention it occasionally - in truth, it's more the sadness for a lost young life that impacts upon me.

There have been a lot of fellow travellers passing - the most upsetting thing is there seemed to be so many of them in those formative years.

By the way, eeyorn, I did reply to your last comment back on "consider the ravens".

eeyorn said...

Actually, decent counselling is still hard to find, even though awareness of PTSD is much better these days. I finally got my head straightened out about 8 years ago with the help of a really good Jungian therapist.

Dave Leeke said...

I hope you didn't think I was making light of counselling, eeyorn. I was really commenting on our Litigation-mad World we seem to live in now.

eeyorn said...

Not at all Dave. There's big business in ambulance chasing, provision of social and health care has/is been stealthily privatised....welcome to American style healthcare.

Seems like a good excuse for an NY song

eeyorn said...

ps am I ok to use imbedded links n your blog, Dave?

Dave Leeke said...

Er, that suggests that I might actually understand what that means - the link comes up as an address. If anyone wants to follow it (Andy) than right click and click on "open".

Ah! NY - a great song from one of my all time favourite albums. There's nothing like a friend to tell you you're just pissing in the wind. Many of my friends have told me exactly that.

My three kids and me once planned to form a Neil Young tribute band when daughter number 2 was learning the bass and son (third born) was cheering the neighbours up with his drumming. This mostly consisted of "We Are The Champions" played at John Bonham levels. First born was going to play rhythm guitar and fiddle leaving me to squawk and play lead. We were only going to be a tribute to the "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" album. One of my great regrets that it never happened. However, as First born soon relocated to Mexico and the other two gave up playing musical instruments you might guess that it wasn't one of my best ideas.

eeyorn said...

Ooooh a NY tribute band? Sounds like a lovely idea. If only we could ever get together for practise, I'd suggest you could probably find yourself a backing band amongst your loyal readers.

Dave Leeke said...

Hmm, given how much I play nowadays, I might be able to manage to do a tribute to Arc/Weld!