My mate Alan flew back from Argentina last week.
English by birth, he was also brought up in this country, but has always had the urge to travel.
At the age of fourteen, Alan and I - who had been in the same class at school for three years by that stage - ended up choosing very similar subjects for GCSEs. We both chose the “as little science as possible” route, and straight away realised that surrounded by 178 others in the same year of a Grammar school, we were suddenly put in amongst the low achiever group. That is, the ones who didn’t really want to do science, the ones whose extra curricular activities were mainly made up of either computer games or experimenting with drugs (but weirdly, never computer simulations of drug taking, which would have made a nice twist).
Being surrounded by people that we’d known for three years but never really knew well, Alan and I aligned ourselves with each other straight away.
There’s an incident that stands out as the time our friendship was sealed, but for the life of me I can’t place it in a timeline.
At school there were two main forms of punishment. One was detention, which was favoured by teachers who obviously had nothing better to do with themselves once school had finished than to watch over a group of teenagers for an hour. The other was to be made to sit on “The Bench”.
Where I work at the bank now, “The Bench” is a term used to describe up and coming managers: “We now have a decent sized group on The Bench for Essex” and “Do we HAVE to promote Dan? Surely there must be someone else on The Bench to promote above him? Again.” But at school it was simply a wooden bench that sat outside the Headmaster’s office. Whether the idea was to make the disobeying pupil embarrassed, as it was along the main corridor where staff, pupils and visitors would all see you, or whether it was so that the Head got to ask why you was sitting there and generally intimidate you I’m not sure.
Either way, Alan and I both ended up sitting on the bench. Seeing as it was not the done thing to be talking whilst on the bench, we were sitting there in relative silence. Me at the end of the bench, Alan to my right. We were both staring off into the distance when suddenly I felt a scratching motion on my right leg. Knowing full well that it wasn’t me doing the scratching I looked down at my leg to see another hand. My gaze followed the hand, up the arm, to see Alan, who was staring in the other direction. I held my gaze for a second before Alan turned with a look of bewilderment on his face, as if he couldn’t figure out why the itch on his leg wasn’t being relieved. His eyes saw his hand on my leg, and he looked up, hand still in place, to see me looking at him incredulously. Whether his brain was working a second or two behind everything else, I don’t know, but as he did a double take between his hand and my face, he jumped, pulling his hand away as he did, and we both dissolved into hysterics.
That was the start of a true friendship between Alan and I, and one that continues to this day. Although I think he will always spend a lot of time living abroad, as he once pointed out to me, whereever he has been, he has only ever been a maximum of 24 hours from his front door.