April 12, 2016 at 8:16 pm Leave a comment


Just a couple of weeks ago I had a “significant birthday”. I turned 50.

I was born on a Wednesday under the sign of Aries. The US president at the time was Lyndon B. Johnson (Democratic) and the UK Prime Minister was the champagne socialist, Harold Wilson (Labour), and The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore by The Walker Brothers was number one in the charts, as they used to be known.

A lot has happened since then.

I was born in Walsall, now one of the UK’s most deprived towns. While resembling many former Soviet bloc towns and cities, Walsall is, in fact, in the Black Country – not yet a reference to its ethnic mix but to the smoky, sooty side-effects of the Industrial Revolution. “Walsall” is thought to be derived from the words “Wah halh”, meaning “valley of the Celtic speakers” or “where people speak like Benny off Crossroads”. Now that has aged me.

Walsall is “famous” for its arboretum and its illuminations and is officially the “Unhappiest Town” in the country (according to a First Direct poll) and is compared with Ceaucescu’s Romania and declared “The ugliest place in the world”. Famous residents include Noddy Holder (my friends will regale me with their renditions of the “Kipper Tie/Cuppa Tea” joke at the drop of a hat) and Boy George. And, very briefly my good self. For I was born in the Manor Hospital.

A lot has happened since then.

Much of my childhood and early education has been (almost accurately) captured for posterity in the pages of this blog. But, at the age of 18 I was lucky enough to gain a place at the Queen’s College, Oxford University. And it was there that I was even more fortunate to meet three lads that would become my best friends.

And, it was with these three that I chose to celebrate my half century last weekend, with a male bonding cum “walking weekend” cum extended pub crawl in Cheshire; two nights of debauchery (not) in the Alvanley Arms, Cotebrook; a gentle (not) meander along far too many miles of the Sandstone Trial; and a morning doing the tourist sites in Chester.

In truth, I had intended to blog about the humorous things that happen when a group of middle-aged (not) competitive alpha males with history get together and test themselves beyond their physical prowess and mental ages.

And, indeed, there was a wealth of material. The usual material which comes from placing four heterosexual males in just three rooms, forcing two to share a room (but thankfully not a double bed this time); of snoring loud enough to wake the dead; and, of conversations with the great white telephone – the result of a very delicate constitution; my dodgy knee; the tea fascist cum coffee snob who swung between lecturing the hotel staff on the art of tea bagging over breakfast and the pleasure of a strong long black.

It was like an episode of Last of the Summer Wine on steroids and innuendo and beer. And, I had a great time throughout despite much physical pain, mental strife, sleep deprivation and the low point, which was the soggy triple cooked chips.

But, to blog about that would be to have done a disservice to my friends who I have now known for 32 years, being 64% of my life, and 62% of theirs – all three were slow starters. And, to be fair, the highs and lows of the weekend have already been broadcast in near real time via Twitter and Facebook…… #OldGuysOnTour. What goes on tour does not necessarily stay on tour in these social media, wifi-enabled days.

What has stuck me most thinking back over the weekend is how lucky I am to know these men who share a bond of friendship and love that has been built and cemented between us over all these years, despite geographic separation and the usual conflict of priorities and daily life.

We are more than friends and more than family. We are all blessed with lovely and loving partners, and my friends have great bright, fun, and entertaining children who are a joy to be around and who I am watching grow into wonderful human beings all too quickly. We are all successful in our careers as a result of too much hard work and compromise and share the same stresses and concerns that come with all of that. And, despite lacking much in cycling proficiency, one gammy ear, a dodgy knee, and a third bollock, we are all relatively sane and healthy. And, long may it be so.

Thank you all three for your time and company this weekend and for making my birthday memorable. Thank you for letting C and I be part of your lives and your families. I look forward to sharing more significant dates with you and yours in the future.

And, to blogging about it……


Entry filed under: Cautionary Tales, humour, middleman. Tags: , , , , .

Are you being served…. The Great Divide……Chips

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