Wayne comes in at number 27. He wants to be 27 but doesn’t say why and I forget to ask. We have been friends since he was the one on the far left in the hand knitted blue V-neck and I was seated four along the second row.
Our friendship is 41 years old and his voice hasn’t changed in sound, just in pitch. When he answers the phone he reminds me that we weren’t very close friends at Snarestone C of E primary school (thanks) and I tell him that he used to get on my nerves (you’re welcome).
I think he means that it is quite startling that, with the help of the instrument of Facebook, we are closer now than we have ever been. In 2012, after Wayne and I had spent a year on messenger, he organised a reunion of old mates. It was on the evening after my Dad’s memorial service and was like the cherry on the big medical cake- me chatting to old friends about what my dad had cured them of and remembering when, without anaesthetic, he had freed Wayne’s willy from his zip.
We both have crystal clear memories and catching up on them has been a scream. I can ask him to name the type of car that Geoff Eaton (father of our close mutual friend, Toni) was driving in 1973 and he would remember the registration. I could ask him what type of transportation Norina’s Italian mum wore dangling from her ears and he would say ‘Silver ships’, wouldn’t you Wayne? And what did she use as a pet name for us all? My baby.
I tell him that I was always in awe of the naughty kids. When I stayed at Toni’s we took over the streets of the village of Snarestone, played ‘Knock-a-door-run’, rode our bikes round in circles in the road, and drank bottles of pop secretly stolen from the village hall. We did impressions of Terry Ashmore buying cigarettes, ’10 number 6 and a packet of matches’ and got chased by the same drunk man outside The Globe repeatedly. We did some other things that are just unspeakable, but it’s not as if any of us got killed is it? Yes it is.
I’m glad when the topic of our friends who have died comes up early in our conversation. In a school where there are only nine in a year group, losing two before they are adults is life changing for everyone. Wayne was in the year above and was close friends with Norina through village life and would have been protective over Roger because of their shared impish streaks. They were all such live wires. In the picture, Norina is three to the right of me and Roger is two down from her.
Both of us remember Roger’s death as if it was yesterday. I remember the stripy socks I was wearing and the cream phone in Scotland that I took the call from Toni on. He remembers the look on the face of the neighbour who came to say that Roger had been knocked off his bike by a motorbike and had died.
Five years later, in 1984 I was in bed fretting about exam results on the 24th of August and my parent’s home help came in to tell me what she had heard on the radio and Norina had died after falling off the back of a motorbike.
Wayne and I discuss their funerals. Children weren’t at Roger’s. My mum went and gave me a minute by minute run down of it all. I remember the hymns and all the details as if I was there.
Norina’s funeral was packed. It was held in the tiny church that we attended as a school and again, nothing is forgotten. I tell Wayne that losing those two has sent my life off in directions that I would never have dreamed of because, at a very impressionable age, I learnt that life can be over in a second. And if it can end that quickly, what are we waiting for?
Wayne was clearly in a hurry to make the best of his life. He has three children and ten grandchildren (you heard). He is his own boss, he follows his passions of football and formula one and he wrestles daily with the vivid memories that make him who he is.
At Norina’s funeral the vicar stood up and, in his dramatic Welsh voice, said ‘Every single one of you will be sitting here now asking why. Why would God take away a young life such as this? Why would a caring God take back one whom we all loved so much?’
We listened as if our lives depended on the answer.
‘And the answer is…
we don’t know.’