(Being a feeble attempt to write in the style
of Jerome K. Jerome)
Of all the creatures I dread meeting, old friends must top the list. Centipedes may repel me, spiders make me jump, worms sicken me, but old friends do sometthing even worse: the remind me.
Principally they remind me of when I first met them, which always seems distressingly long ago (and ever more so now), and always in a much happier time. Or so my memory would have me believe. Take the man behind the meat counter of my nearest supermarket (then M&S, now MAC’s, sans the man and meat counter); I was minding my own business one day, buying a small pork pie for my lunch, when he looks up at me and says “It’s John Steele, isn’t it?”. Well, I was no more able to deny this than I was to recognise him. “Yes,” I says, slightly ruffled. “IT’s David,” he says, expecting I don’t know what from my poor under-worked brain. “David Steadman.” (Name here changed.)
A memory floods my neurons. In typical fashion it’s an embarassing one and absolutely no use in starting a conversation, so I summon all my sparkling wit and conversational ability and say: “Oh, hello.”
“What’re doing these days?” he persists.
“Nowt,” I answer. “I’m unemployed.” It sounds better than saying you’re a budding author.
He hands me my pork pie. I grab it, thank him, say “see you around”, and depart with a mental note to go elsewhere next time I get the urge for a pig-filled pastry. Because this illustrates another unfortunate aspect of Old Friends, the embarass one.
They embarass yer by dredging out old memories just as some mothers dredge out photograph albums. But worst of all, the embarass you by contrast. Old Friends are thinly disguised judging angels sent to make you uncomfortable. To kick you out of whatever rut you have made for yourself. To remind you of forgotten dreams. Abandoned goals. To make you see yourself through the dream-filled eyes of the youth you once were. To re-examine yourself. Nonsense! you say? Then why-O-why have I never yet met an old friend who wasn’t, apparently, doing better in his life than me?
©John Steele, 1989, 2008
Originally published in Hanley WEA’s Writer’s Workshop
Anthology no. 4, March 1989
The supermarkets mentioned in the article have now long since closed.