Friday, 25 March 2011

Old Friends

There is a special place where I live, its not much to look at to be honest. It has a huge roundabout in the middle of it, with different A roads leading off to London in one direction, and the other towards Southend where Essex family's have spent many years getting sun burnt walking along its stony beaches. They go for the day too eat fish and chips, eat candy floss and consume their own body weight in 99's. Then like red lobsters they travel home back to the city.

The shops on the roads that lead away from the roundabout haven't changed much down the years. The usual mixture of takeaways and cafes, and a very famous nightclub. Faces is the place where the footballers go and the Essex girls, not all of them I might add but a certain breed, hope to get made for life.They think with their fake tans and short skirts that they will be 'the one' who will be whisked off to a life of luxury. Except, for the most part they end up discarded and left by the roadside, often in tears, not understanding why they wasn't chosen to spend longer than it took for them to give their souls away to these men. They rise, dust themselves down and go back for more time and time again, hoping this time they last longer than the expensive champagne bottle that is drank far too fast.

If you were to come and visit this place, you wouldn't think it was any different than any other roundabout with shops scattered around it. To you that may be true, to me however its like an old friend.

I have spent some of my happiest moments of my life standing in the place they call Gants Hill. Its where I met my wife for the first time when I was 17. The Iceland that is still there, is where I got my first full-time retail job at 18. The Odeon which unfortunately is no longer there, like most things it has been replaced by flats that no one can afford too buy, was where I used too take my 'dates', hey don't judge me it had back rows with double seats. It was the place where I tasted my first 7-11 Slurpee ( how I miss them even now).

Its where I used to go every Christmas Eve for an Indian with my mates after spending a night in the pub and the waiter would give us a lift home as no cab firm would touch us. It was the place where I nearly got arrested for pissing on a group of policeman from a roof top after England had lost to Germany at Italia 90. It holds some very special memories for me.

I was part of a group of 30, a mixture of boys and girls, the boys standing there posing next to the cars that their friends drove, MC Hammer and Bobby Brown blaring from the pioneer stereos and the boots of the cars full with speakers. The girls with their permed hair trying to attract the attention of the hormonal youths that courted them, all jean jackets and lip gloss. Every now and then disappearing off to the darkened car park for some quiet time of breast grabbing and laying your coat on the floor, so as the oil that had leaked from the cars didn't spoil their clothes if you were lucky enough to persuade a girl that you were 'the one'.

I stayed friends with two of the group, one married my sister and the other married one of the group as did I. We have been close through thick and thin and yet some of the group went their separate ways. It was no ones fault we just grew apart as a big group like that eventually does. I was the first too settle down the others followed years later. We tried to keep in touch with the others but unfortunately it wasn't that easy or perhaps we didn't try that hard, remember though this was before mobile phones, or perhaps thats an easier way of remembering it.

Standing in the park this Sunday with my kids a huge dog came bounding towards us. A little nervous at first at the size of the dog and the apparent lack of an owner I was ready for anything. Well I say anything what I mean was I was ready too grab as many kids as I could and run for it, the bravery of my youth left me many years ago, about the time I tasted my own blood for the first and only time and decided I didn't like it very much. However my bravery wasn't needed as the dog stopped and sat down right in front of me and looked at me, I stopped my heart still pounding in my chest and a little surprised by this I heard a voice say,

'Tony you big poofter stroke him he wants to say hello'

I didn't even have too look up I knew that voice straight away. The frame was a little wider, the hair had gone but that smile was still there, the killer smile that swayed a hundred ladies and got me in so much trouble as I fought the boyfriends off, whilst he went for some quiet time. To be fair he did the same for me as well when the time arose. I grinned like a kid at Christmas and embraced him like the long lost friend he was. Both my four kids and his son stood there staring at us, wondering why their Dads were hugging each other. We laughed and joked about each others appearance and it was like we hadn't been apart. We fell into the conversations we had when we were younger, talking about the friends we knew and lost. It was like we were 18 all over again.

I wanted it to last forever, to go back to those days and the memories and fun we had, but all too soon it was over. We swapped numbers promising too keep in touch but knowing deep down we wouldn't but didn't want to say it. I told my kids about him and hoped he did the same about me, I'm sure he would have.

Today I got a message on Facebook saying someone wanted to be friends with me. To be honest I'm very selective of who I accept, unlike Twitter where Ill add anyone and everyone ( have you seen who I follow? Exactly). I have pictures of my kids on my Facebook page and my settings are set to friends only. I was intrigued by this request so I had a look. I couldn't believe what I saw. It was the final part of my core group of friends when I was much younger, lighter and had more hair, mind you his hair had gone as well so I felt a little better by that.

Messages were quickly exchanged containing phone numbers and a phone call was made. We caught up briefly on what had happened in our lives and agreed too meet up as soon as we can. Meeting these two old friends has made me smile constantly to myself this week. The memories of what we did and the fun we had, the girls we kissed and the fights we won. Like the spring weather that's brought more sunshine into my life this week it feels like a cloud that was hanging over me has lifted.

By speaking to these guys and sharing what we had its brightened my world. From the dark places Ive been recently the memories are coming flooding back and even as I sit here and write this I'm smiling to myself. Whenever I go past Gants Hill now, the place where I used too live, I shall be thankful for the summers of fun I had there, for the people I met and the girl I married. It may not look much to the outsider but to me it will always be home and a part of me that I will never want be rid off. To me its a keeper of memories and a very special place.

Ive written before about what we did as kids and why this place and the people I met were and still are so special to me. (well what I can say legally without getting arrested) please click the links and enjoy sharing in those happy memories. Gants Hill Part 1 Gants Hill Part 2 The Best Summer Of My Life Part 1 The Best Summer Of My Life Part 2.


  1. Funny old world mate.. I was just there this morning coming out of the station. Looking around as if nothing had changed oh except a beauty salon of some kind. Days in the park, Coming out of Faces *issed as *rseholes.. Then round the corning for a takeaway and off home lol. Even going to the valentine for a drink... Had the most craziest of dates there, something I will never forget lmao. Its nice to talk about old memories...

    Just need to make some new ones now.

    The memories are part of us all... :)

  2. I liked this a lot - there's a kind of raw honesty and emotion about your writing.

  3. I used to live in Leytonstone and didn't realise that the Odeon Cinema had gone at Gants Hill. That's a shame. I used to go either there or the the one in South Woodford which still remains.

    Enjoyed this very much.

  4. Loved this post so much. I loved the history in the opening paragraphs and that feeling of meeting up with an old friend for the first time in a long time. Just fab.

  5. Thank you all for your kind comments.

    Marc we should meet and have that drink in the val then wander around gants hill remembering all the fun we had

    Sharon thank you I try to be as honest as I can

    Happyfrogandi it's such a shame all the local
    Cinemas round here have long gone and been replaced by souless multiplexes

    Baghabit I'm so glad you liked it.

    Thanks again for all the comments and the reweets on twitter as well