28 December, 2005

Sign here

There's no snow back here in Liverpool, but there is such a frost outside that the floors of my flat are too cold to walk on with your shoes off.

There's also a Christmas card waiting for me from an old friend who I've known for over 15 years. Except this year there's not only his name written inside - there are three names.

This comes as no surprise, but is still something that's pretty arresting to see scrawled right there in front of me, in print, completely unselfconscious and unashamed.

The second name is the name of his wife. That's right. I have a friend who is married. And yes, he was someone from my year at school. And now he is married.

I played the organ at his wedding 18 months ago, itself a pretty surreal occasion, seeing someone you used to swap Maths revision notes with and cadge a few crisps off at breaktime standing in front of a registrar declaring his undying love for somebody else from this day forward till death do they part.

I was flattered to be asked to play at his wedding - but somewhat bemused to then discover the number of people also attending the occasion who I would know totalled less than one. Discounting the groom himself. I wondered why he hadn't invited anybody else from my, well, "time". I also wondered who he expected me to make conversation with once the ceremony was over. As he never supplied an answer, and I could never come up with one, I left the wedding as soon as I'd finished the final piece of music.

I hope he didn't mind. He's not been in touch since, except to send Christmas cards. Last year, with his new wife's name in. And then this year, with his new son's name in.

Yes, I have a friend who has a son. Someone I used to lend 20 pence for a hot chocolate from the canteen; someone I used to flick bits of paper at in A Level Chemistry lessons.

Is someone you haven't seen properly for around seven or eight years - except for half an hour while you rattled out instrumental versions of 'Wind Beneath My Wings' and 'We've Only Just Begun' - still a proper friend? Should I presume to even expect him to treat me like a friend, given he's got his own family now?

He signs his own name, and that of his wife and child, with the same handwriting that once emblazoned "...A PENCIL AND A TOY TRUMPET" on the inside of my school folder. It's only his writing that connects the me and him of today with the me and him of back then and reruns of Blackadder Goes Forth and demented orchestra rehearsals and maths coursework and representing the school at the local town hall and half-price cakes from the canteen during an endless, aimless free period.

On a night as cold as this, perhaps that's enough. Or rather, perhaps that's all I should hope for.


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