Sunday, 8 March 2015

On Friendship

Mandy and I attended a surprise 60th birthday lunch for my best pal in London today. His partner, Clare, had asked me, as his oldest pal, to say a few words.  This is what I said...
I'm going to start by taking a quick a straw poll... How many of you here today call Michael by his full name - Michael - or by the more familiar, Mike?  (The majority of hands showed up for 'Michael').

So, apart from his sister Ann and my wife Mandy, I think I must be about the only person who calls him Mike. And I claim the right to do so and to continue to do so... because that's what everyone called him when we were at school together in 1970, aged 15, and I also claim the right to say a few words about my oldest - and best - pal...

Mike first came to my attention as a new arrival at our secondary school, the John Neilson High School, in Paisley, in our Third Year (that's Year 9 to you Sassenachs). We were 15. Difficult to miss even then, as he was taller than most of us - not too difficult in my case.  We didn't become pals until he showed up as one of the chorus in our school production of 'Oliver', and I have a very clear picture in my memory of him running (skipping actually, to music) onto the stage as one of a group of 'urchins' and seamlessly scooping up and removing a stool which had been used in the previous scene, without dropping a step or indeed, the stool itself.

I had a small group of friends and Mike fitted right in - bit nerdy, middle-class, musical, drama club and school show focussed - we would hang about in the corridors or the Music Department practice rooms. We also found out he and I shared an interest in steam trains - that made him more than alright in my book.

And Mike made me laugh. We shared the same sense of humour, fuelled by comedians like Eric Morecombe and Tommy Cooper, and as volunteer school librarians, our weekly top up from 'Punch' magazine. Eric Morecomble and Mike gave me the best laughs of my teenage years - you know that laugh that doubles you up, which makes you almost cry with laughter?  I will never forget the costume fitting for school panto - Sinbad - when he and I turned up to the Home Economics Department to try on our respective costumes in the classroom cupboard - I was Tinbad (Sinbad's naughty little brother) and Mike was.... Mrs Sinbad, my Mum! Picture, if you will, Mike at 16 yrs old, 6 ft tall, struggling to get into a dance of the seven veils-type costume, with yashmak and everything...! I was on the floor, weeping with laughter.  He stole the show every night, the perfect panto dame, with that essential incongruity of man-in-a-dress gruffness and campness.

We were in and out of each others houses all the time - our parents approving of each other's friend - and I have fond memories of Mike's Mum and Dad, both now sadly passed away. And again, there's the measure of true friendship; Mike attended my Mum's funeral in Scotland to pay his respects when she passed on 8 years ago, and I was privileged to be able to support Mike, Clare and Matthew at Joyce's funeral last year.

We followed our separate paths when we left school - Mike to the BBC in London and me to Drama College in Edinburgh, but we maintained our friendship over the years, into our working lives and all the other up and down stuff that 'growing up' brings with it. And here we are now - 45 years on. Both older and maybe a little bit wiser. 
Isn't it funny tho' how old gets older, the older you get?

It's a delight for Mandy I to be here today to celebrate Mike's 60th Birthday with you all. Please raise your glasses and wish the Birthday Boy a very Happy Birthday!
This stuff matters!