This is not about a beautiful memory, a story with a moral, a message or any form of catharsis. It's more a getting it off of my chest moment.
Back in the '80s, I had a friend called Martin Cobbler. He lived not too far from me, in the next terrace. We were kind of thrown together, I suppose. I lived on the top of a hill in Bournemouth. A meagre hill, it must be said, but a hill nonetheless. Down the hill, to the East, I think, the Catholic families lived. The Protestant families lived on the Western slope. The Catholic Mothers didn't like their children playing with Protestants.
I played with Martin because he was my age. At first, I didn't like him. He was fat. His lips glistened with saliva. He had a strange pong, like a damp dog. One of his sisters had a habit of shitting in drains and the other sister would prod it with a stick before shouting, "Mum, Sammy's done a dirty."
Then I grew to like Martin. I can't be specific, but I think out of pity. Eating in their kitchen, I was more than upset to find they had no dessert spoons, but, instead, ate trifle out of cereal bowls with table spoons. They had no living room carpet. Their toilet was filthy and stank.
Of course, I said nothing, apart from refusing future invitations to take tea with the Cobblers.
I must have had the most patronising ideas for Martin. I'd encourage him to play in my bedroom or my garden as often as possible and ask Mum to dish a meal up for him, whether it be lunchtime or teatime. We were common, remember, dear reader, so we didn't eat dinner, but tea. Before leaving my house, I'd ask, "Would you like to use my toilet, Martin, before going home?"
Martin and I didn't go to the same school. Although out of the catchment area, I did go to the better school. Only because my brother was already there. And he only got to go because our sister was there before him. She'd got in because my parents used to live in a less common part of town when Lorraine began school. I say less common. It was still common, just to a lesser extent. There are grades of common, you know.
Martin went to the school where children swore. They said things like shit and fuck.
I asked Mum if Martin could go to my school. She said he wouldn't be allowed. My heart sank. Then I began dreaming of Martin's parents dying in a car accident and Mum adopting him.
And then I grew up.
Martin went to work in an architect's office on leaving school. I went to college, then, at the start of the '90s, took a job in the accounts department at a builder and decorators' merchant. After that, a bank, then Post Office Counters Limited and then a building society. We were eighteen within a week of one another in 1990. I bought him a CD player, chose a really sappy birthday card with verse after verse about friendship and being good friends and took him out for a meal.
My birthday came some six days later. We met in the morning. He didn't wish me a happy birthday or many happy returns of the day. First, I thought he might be planning some kind of surprise. You know the kind, the type where the victim believes his or her birthday's been forgotten - until some huge surprise party begins.
There was no surprise party, although he did attend a meal with me, along with very close friends and family.
Not short of a bob or two himself, he left the restaurant to go home without even offering to chip in with the bill.
Within a year, I was living in something of a molly house in Southbourne. A 1920s/1930s house in Irving Road, choc full of gays. His parents had recently split up and he needed to find a place of his own. He asked me if he could stay with me for a week or two until he'd organised his living arrangements. Of course, I agreed. Of course, for the two weeks he stayed with me, he didn't once offer to chip in with the rent or share the food bill.
I had no idea he'd be gone after two weeks. I came home after work, on the Friday, I think it was, to find he'd cleared all his stuff out and a wee note saying he'd be in touch.
I didn't see him for seven years...
...And then I did, on a bus going through Winton in Bournemouth. I was on the street and recognised him immediately. He was stood near the door, waiting for the bus to stop, waiting to alight. I sometimes wonder, if he'd seen me as I'd seen him, would he have got off of the bus?
He said he'd been busy.
I was never too busy to be his friend.
Friendships are all about give and take. As with every other kind of relationship, friendships are never based on pure equality, even when we think they are or wish they are. Friendships are give and take situations. One friend will do lots of giving and hardly any taking. The other friend will do lots of taking and hardly any giving.
This can work. Some people get off on being takers. The adulation and hero-worship may make them feel special or important, especially knowing their friends need them; that they can get away with it. Others get off on being givers. Insecurities and other personal issues mean that some people will either seek out or only feel comfortable with people who treat them poorly. A giver might see this, consciously or subconsciously as some kind of psychlogical challenge:
Even though he's really mean to me, if I am even nicer in future, give him more, massage his ego more than ever before, he might finally like me. When he likes me, I'll be a better person.
That cycle is very difficult to break. The taker doesn't want to stop getting off on the worship, the giver doesn't want to give up trying in the hope that they'll become a good friend, good person.
Martin taught me lots and lots of lessons about friendship and relationships in general. I'd idealised our friendship, our brotherhood. I believed in equality and presumed this meant I'd create and propagate equality in all aspects of my personal life. It took me a long time, but I eventually realised he'd been using me all those years and I'd let it happen. The packets of menthol fags I'd buy; he'd smoke. The tenners I'd lend him, never to see again. The promises of this, that and the other that he'd make and never keep. My requests, always to be met, though never were. The way he enjoyed my feeling sorry for him, when, in fact, there was nothing to feel sorry about.
Martin broke my heart.
But, you know, all those things, however bad, however one sided, I rarely think of. When I think of Martin, I remember a game we used to play as children. I think we were about seven or eight years of age. Don't ask me why, but it was called Peter's Block and was like a cross between it and hide 'n' seek. Martin would get quite annoyed if a player ignored, changed or broke the complicated rules of the game and would use humiliation and other tactics to dish out his revenge. Strangely, he thought nothing of changing, ignoring or breaking the rules himself and would do so quite openly with an almost expressionless face. As if he had no conscience.
I'm still quite childish with friendships and have difficulty accepting hypocrisy.
I expect Martin is still self obsessed; still surrounds himself with people who have inferiority issues and still makes promises he has no intention of keeping; enjoying the reaction, seeing the sadness in people who find they've been let down yet again. I also expect, though, that Martin is still to experience the wonder of true friendship and all the benefits it can bring. His heart will never miss a miss. He will never walk with a spring in his step and he will never hear the words, "I love you, " with the same feeling as most other people do.
My relationship with Martin started with pity and, really, ended that way, for I still pity him today.