I was reminded this week what a small world we live in. My eldest son walked into a pub and saw one of those photo collages that you see on the walls sometimes. You know the type – full of faces of regulars from the past and present. Images I would imagine, of trophy-winning football teams, darts triumphs and pool tournament heroes. Imperfect portraits of punters who have invested heavily in the livelihood of whoever owned the pub at that particular time. Anyway, my son looked at the photos and said out loud, a little excitedly, “My Dad might be in one of those…” An older man, same age as me in fact, said to the young man in front of him, “Who’s your Dad then?” “Paul Hatcher,” came the reply.”No way! I went to school with him. He was my best mate.”
My son was understandably surprised by this minor revelation. Not by the fact that I had a best mate at school of course but by the fact that he had somehow stumbled upon him in this very small bar in my home town.
Photographic evidence was produced and before long, they were both waxing lyrical together.
Why do I share this little story at all? Because, in a sentence, I was touched when the said Best Mate called me to inform me of this random rendezvous and we had the longest conversation we have had for many, many years. To hear him describe me as his “Best Mate” was a lovely testament to our genuinely long and lasting friendship. The fact that we have not spent any time together for the past twenty odd years suddenly seemed irrelevant. We’ve both been busy doing our own thing and yet to hear him speak like that proved yet again, how powerful a childhood friendship can be.
He was the consummate athlete – brilliant at any sport he bothered to pursue. I remember introducing him to squash when we were much older and wondering how on earth he could beat me so easily in his first ever game!
When we were eighteen, we went to live on a kibbutz in Israel, where his big brother was already establishing himself as a well-respected member of the community. I stayed for seven months while he stayed for a while longer. I then went travelling around the U.S. and Canada, eventually moving to London, and we slowly but surely lost touch, save for the odd exchange here and there.
For some reason, which if I am honest with you, I am still processing right now, just hearing him describe me as “my Best Mate from school” has provoked a response in me that is I suspect, giving me a whole fresh perspective on life. I have always considered him as my “Best Mate from school”, so hearing me say that out loud does not change anything. For many years, we were like brothers. We worked for the same newsagent at the local train station, delivering newspapers and when he got bored of the best job, I took over his coveted position of selling newspapers, sweets, and cigarettes (yes, cigarettes when I was only fifteen!) from the tiny kiosk on the London-bound platform. That was where I learned how to give change from a twenty pound note for the Daily Telegraph, The Sun, 20 Rothmans, a box of matches and a Mars bar in less than ten seconds!
We played endless games of tennis at the local park throughout the summer holidays, his Mum bought our house, we lost count of the number of sleepovers we had until they morphed into all-night party sessions with a wider crowd of others, as we got older and worked and played increasingly harder.
He is one of the most naturally sweet-natured people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and I will always consider him one of my closest friends – however long it takes before we sit down together and remember life as it once was. Which reminds me, I really should go to that tiny pub and double check if I am in any of those photos.
And the moral of this story? I think you know already.