Such a treat to be able to have friends for lunch on a Friday, something that after many years of retirement still feels decadent and somehow a fine example of idleness. All that 40s and 50s breeding of work and thrift cannot be shaken off, so that even though I have not darkened the door of an employer in fifteen years, a weekday beano seems stolen from toil. Our occasion was nothing more than a sort of regular get-together based around three of us who attended Stockport College of Technology in the late 60s. On the day, it was remarked upon that this noble institution somehow escaped elevation to university, and perhaps has retained its self-respect as a true vocational college as a result, for such it was then when we ploughed through our HND in Business Studies.
In those days I shared a room in a Levenshulme digs with Paul, and also two interests: chess and beer. Both of necessitated absences from lectures, but alas our political outlooks differed, even more sharply now. Once we attended a rally against the visit of Enoch Powell to the town hall; I thought Paul was against the visit until I saw his bovver boots designed to effect a backwards stomp on the delicate toes of any left-wing protester. Although I favoured right of centre in those days, I thought this was a bit much. Possible it reflected the North East’s enduring bitterness at being left off the Domesday Book.
To return to the lunch, which was attended by Tina, the third of our trio brought together by Friends Reunited some years ago. Paul’s wife Susan was unfortunately unable to attend owing to poor health so we were five, including Suzanne and Tina’s partner, Rob a retired and often lacrosse referee and you don’t get to meet many of those. As the day wore on, the marvellous coq au vin supported by wine and port took its toll and the much-related Story of the Paraffin Heater came up, so we go back to Levenshulme in the winter of 1968.
Imagine a small bedroom with two narrow beds on the second floor of a long terrace facing the Stockport Road. No central heating, of course: ice inside the windows in the morning, dress and undress in bed. On the days when our grant money was low, that is, we couldn’t afford the pub, we played chess, an activity of little bodily movement and even young bones require some warmth. Supplied by the landlord, a DP from Czechoslovakia and actually called Mr Czech, we used a paraffin heater that would moderate the chill but only if you leant over it. Of course it frequently needed fuel and our arrangement was that we would take turns to walk round to the garage with a refill container. A pretty good arrangement but which worked in theory only, because heated arguments developed over whose turn it was – still played out over this lunch 56 years later. Naturally, Paul was the offender, but a matured life draws the sting of wha – although we never came to blows – was once serious glowering at one’s roommate. For my 70th birthday, said non-compliant paraffin-replenisher thoughtfully presented me with what you see below; I was also grateful that he didn’t wear those bovver boots.