Viktor Forgacs

Old Friends

Harry Watson


The greatest gift of life is friendship, and I have received it.

Hubert Humphrey

I understand that Elton John is to play his last UK farewell performance next year, and in recent weeks, I feel that I, too, have played the role of ‘an ageing rockstar’ on a farewell tour. I’ve enjoyed drinks, food, conversation and laughter with ex-colleagues and friends, new and old, as I said my goodbyes before my return to Newcastle.

The last of those farewell ‘gigs’ was earlier this week when it was time to say au revoir to those friends of longest standing. Over the past twenty years, we’ve met every few months or so. For a bite to eat, a glass or two and much conversation, usually in London.

We’ve known each other much longer than that, however. We first met as twenty-something-year-old colleagues in the late 1970s. Outside of work, we socialised together and with our families. We also played football and cricket together. But as happens in life, we went our separate ways workwise over time. Still, we continued to meet for an occasional meal and a couple of beers. And as we aged, we christened ourselves ‘Summer Wine’ as a tongue-in-cheek homage to the TV show.

We had Martin’ our own woolly hatted ‘Compo’. Our Phlegmatic ‘Cleggy’, Yorkshireman John. There was Kelvin, our gentle and cautious ‘Foggy’. And taking a liberty with the three-handed TV series, I ‘played’ the “I’m in charge” Cyril Blamire character (no comments, please).

Then another ‘old codger’, Reg, joined the group. He, too, had been part of our football team way back, but we’d then lost touch with him. One memory stands out of Reg and football playing. Before taking the field, I’d never seen anyone strap his knees so much. He looked like he was auditioning for the ‘Mummy’. And this was in the days when we were young! (Well, comparatively so).

Sadly, ‘Foggy’ died a few years ago (and when we meet, our first toast is always to ‘absent friends’) at a far too early age. I wrote of Kelvin in another piece last year. Then, as fate would have it, at his funeral, we met another workmate from the 80s, and so in losing one member, we gained another. We also began to branch out a little, and a meal and a beer became a ‘themed’ pub crawl, usually around London (though we did get as far as Oxford on one occasion). Themes have included Dickens, Jack the Ripper (I’ll never forget the end of that one in the Blind Beggar), film and medicine. One crawl we’ve done more than once is that of the 17th Century pubs that sit by the Thames in the East end of London. Pubs that once saw the Mayflower set sail. And others frequented by Pepys, Dickens and ‘Hanging’ Judge Jeffries.

The group has expanded too. More members have joined from the working days of the eighties. Even our older children have joined us on occasion. I recall one charming scene from a couple of years ago. It was watching one of the younger group members walking between two’ mellow’ (it was the end of the crawl), older members, their arms linked. It was a sweet scene as the three ambled down Piccadilly together in search of a tube station.

I have this silly thought. After the original ‘Summer Wine’ group shuffle off this mortal coil (many, many, many years from now), other friendships may have been born. And it may be that this younger group will continue an occasional meander, both through city streets and in conversation.

Now, onward to Newcastle and in keeping with new horizons, this will be my last post on Medium. I have moved all my earlier posts to Substack, so if you are kind enough to read what I write, you can continue to do so here...

I hope I might ‘see’ you there.