You need friends

When do we first make friends and is that first friend always a friend for life, or are later friends really better friends?

I have often spoken on Facebook and elsewhere about my lifelong friend Roger Steele.

Roger Steele as I always remember him, cool, casual and with a car in the background

Roger was not my first friend, however, although our friendship lasted the longest. No, my first friendship was made far away from Rhyl and though it only lasted a couple of years I have never forgotten it.

This was how I looked:

What a sweet little fellow I was.

Although I was born in Liverpool of a Welsh father and Liverpool-Welsh mother my first real memories began in a town called Chesham in Buckinghamshire.

The family, my father David, my mother Ivy (nee Lloyd), big brother Nigel and big sister Jacqueline, moved down there while I was still a toddler and Dad managed a chemist shop there.

My parents became good friends of our neighbours, the Carters, and my first memory of a playmate who was not part of the family was being in a garden having my photograph taken with a pretty blonde with a dazzling smile.

She must have been very special because I can still see that picture now as I looked up with adoring eyes at the girl holding my hand – Joy.

I was about three and Joy must have been about five but she never complained about this little chap who wanted to be with her all the time. She had no siblings and may well have looked on me as the little brother she never had.

We were still firm friends two years later in May 1955 when we packed up all our worldly goods and headed to Dad’s Welsh homeland as he prepared to run his own shop, DG Pierce MPS, in Water Street, Rhyl, on the North Wales coast.

This is when I discovered new forms of friendship.

Neighbours were not people who lived next door any more. Neighbours now were other businesses (we lived on the premises in a house which had once been a Victorian school).

To one side was a music shop, which was actually part of our premises making Mum and Dad landlords as well as shopkeepers. On the other side of us was a general goods shop mostly selling the sort of stuff necessary for holidaymakers – sunglasses, buckets and spades, inflatable toys etc. etc.

As it happened this was also now part of our property. Both shops were let on long leases.

Over the road most of the houses were B&Bs.

Where to find friends now?

At school of course.

Christ Church County Primary School, Crescent Rd Rhyl.

School was just a five-minute walk away and full of new experiences for a five-year-old looking for new friends.

Off to school to make friends.

As I have said the first friend I made there was another little boy named Roger. It was at this point I discovered that there is more than one type of school friend and in the beginning Roger was in the category of school-only friends.

Remember we were only five.

I lived five minutes walk away down Crescent Road. Roger lived in entirely the opposite direction, going down Crescent Road; taking another road to the bottom of the H bridge; up the bridge and across and down the other side; finally heading along Marsh Road to turn off to Frederick Street.

I haven’t travelled that route in many decades but I could still walk blindfold from my old house to Roger’s old house.

The other type of friend would become the fellow pupil who lived two minutes down the road on my way to school. We didn’t mix in the same groups at school but we would walk home together and sometimes I would stop off and play with this other friend in the back garden before I continued my walk home.

My parents were fine about this the second and subsequent times it happened but not the first time – mainly because I hadn’t mentioned I would be stopping off to play and as far as they were concerned I had just disappeared off the face of the earth.

Once that little matter was sorted I was permitted to stop off at the Jones house and play in the garden with Pam.

Oh, didn’t I say the schoolfriend I didn’t play with at school was a girl? At least this time my replacement for the Joy I had left behind was my own age.

As I said there are many different kinds of friends.

Tomorrow I will move on to the next stage of making friends.

See you soon.

Where have all the young men gone?

What still lay ahead of us when this picture was taken?

It was 1962/63 and this is part of the long school picture taken at the Grammar School on Grange Road, Rhyl, North Wales.

This is the red brick old building before the barbarians managed to raze it to the ground.

I know the year because I am in it in the second row and I know the boys in the front row were a year below me.

What surprises me is that very few of the boys pictured here can be found on Facebook. Many of the girls are there and I can still remember names.

Over the past two or three years I have tried to find these RGS Old Boys but with little success.

I stepped up that search just over two years ago and managed to track my oldest friend, Roger Steele, and, although he was not part of the social media scene, I found his niece Tilly Steele who told me she would be seeing him a few days later and might even get a message from him.

Before she visited he died suddenly of a heart attack. I had left it too late.

I had found two other old school friends from the intake of 61. David Prandle was, and still is, in Spain but we keep in touch.

Then there was David Christley, affectionately known as Binns, who I swapped jokes with for 12 months until late last year when his daughters announced the sad news that he had also died quite suddenly.

Other than that I have had little success with finding others online, except for Don Gatehouse who I discovered earlier this year had been living a scant mile or so from me when I was living in the Midlands.

So where have all the young men gone?

They were of an era to have still been in their 20s when the computer age really began. They should have been all over social media. The girls we were at school with are there, why not the boys?

I still remember many of their names: Gwynne (Hughes or Edwards I think), Tony Custy, David Mallin, Dennis Randle, Jimmy Parker, Peter Lessiter, Phil Chester, David Edwards, John Jones, John Cliff, Colin Taylor . . . .

I can see their faces but they are still schoolboys. By now they must be men aged 70, with families, retired and relaxing in their gardens.

Where have all the young men gone?

Home again

Some of us are born, grow up and die in the one town. Others leave home and take a new path in life.

The three people in this picture are a mixture and the common denominator is North Wales.

Just to set the scene – this picture was taken on the 7th day of the 7th month of the 77th year of the last century.

July 7, 1977 – an easy date to remember even though that is not the reason Marion and I chose it for our wedding day.

For the record I am the dude in the dark glasses and Marion is the beautiful lady in the middle (well she couldn’t be the one at the other end could she?)

The third member of this happy trio, pictured in the back garden of my parents’ home in Dyserth, not far from Rhyl in North Wales, is a young man (then) called Roger Steele. We had been firm friends for 22 years by this time having first met as five-year-olds at Christ Church Primary School in Rhyl.

Rhyl was a very important part of my life for almost 18 years – and still is, even though none of my family live there any more.

The reason for starting this blog is to bring those 18 years back to life. Unfortunately I cannot bring Roger back to life because he died two years ago this month and that sad event took me back to Rhyl where he had remained all his life.

Don’t worry, it’s not all sad as can be seen from this picture. We had many good times.

The physical contact was broken when I crossed the border into England and moved south.

That was then the next part of my life began and in the five short years between 1972 and 1977 a lot happened, but that is for later.

This picture was the moment when I came home again to Wales.

I’d love to say that I’ll be back each day with a new section of the story but I never make promises I can’t be certain of keeping.

See you soon.

Flights of Fancy

Welcome to my world – the cosy nest of everybody’s favourite garden bird the chirpy robin.

This Robin is not always chirpy just as my namesake is known to be belligerent if someone invades his space.

My flights of fancy may even end up in the realms of fantasy (well other journalists do it).

In the main it will be things which catch my fancy at the time or remind me of the last 60 years or so.