Marcus, and how to save a life

Good morning all. It’s 1:03am, and I’ve just got in from a late-night curry with my dad’s friend of 42 years, Marcus. Not enough of you will be awake right now to make this worth posting tonight, but I wanted to write about it while it was all still fresh in my mind, despite the fact that I’m drunk and saturated with stories from my dad’s teens and twenties.

I rang up Marcus on Thursday, from Birmingham, and told him we were coming to Hitchin on Saturday. I started to explain why we were coming (the nature of the show, etc.) but – much like my dad – he didn’t want to know. Instead, he just said ‘do you know the Victoria?’ (another pub). I said I’d find it. He said I’ll see you there on Saturday at 8pm. When someone doesn’t own a mobile phone or a computer, that counts as a concrete and immovable commitment. So Oscar and I met Marcus in the Victoria, had a pint there, went to the Red Hart (where Marcus had his 21st birthday (he is now 59)), had a pint there, and went for a curry at Dhaka; Marcus’s Indian of choice. Each time my dad is down Hitchin for a Luton game, Marcus and he dine there without fail.

My 3 and a half hours with Marcus bore more fruit than everything that has gone before it, by some distance. The Plough was fantastic, and I loved soaking up the atmosphere of the place, but Marcus spent his teens onwards as my dad’s closest friend, and no building, no matter how symbolic, can tell me more than Marcus’s memory.

I learnt about the Micanians (sic), the football team for which my dad, Marcus, Jim Jim, Phil Smith, and Mark Dewhurst used to play. I learnt about the Greek Island holidays, cooking oil instead of suncream (and Marcus still looks that way). I learnt about Nebworth (sic), now known as Sonisphere (sic), a music festival at which my dad nearly died… Led Zep were top of the bill, and my dad had been ‘boozin’ all day. He was fine with pints, but, according to Marcus, could not handle his shorts. So the two bottles of Canadian Club (bourbon) they shared between three of them (Marcus, Jim Jim, and my dad) was the bourbon that got the camel pissed. Apocalyptically pissed. Marcus and Jim Jim were talking. Where’s Ray, they thought, turning to find him face down in the middle of a road. They ran to pick him up, and peel him off the tarmac, and thirty seconds later a handful of cars went whizzing through. Marcus didn’t just save my dad’s life; he clearly made mine too.

We talked a lot about a much more recent hairy moment also. In autumn 2012, my mum and dad broke up. It’s a much longer story than one sentence in one blog post can do justice to (as it always is), but – in short – my dad was in a dark dark place. I was there for him that Christmas, and it was extremely tough for us both; our roles reversed somewhat, but it was peversely nice because I felt like he let his guard down to me for the first time in his life. Marcus was there for him too, having been through a similarly hellish break up nineteen years before. ‘I lost three years of my life then, Ray’ he told my dad, ‘I won’t let you lose three years of yours’. His was a hardlined empathy, but sometimes that’s what one needs to jerk one out of an introspective downward spiral.

This is far too brief (and too drunk) a post for a subject of this magnitude, but I simply had to write something. If nothing else, tonight has shown me the scale of their friendship. Through four decades and various moves (though never Marcus; he’s a Hitchin boy through and through), their friendship has survived. As a 22-year-old man, these are numbers that I can scarcely appreciate. They’ve been friends almost twice the time I’ve been alive. And no matter how little you talk about your feelings during that time, you’re bound to let some things slip.

Meeting Marcus tonight has shown me so much more about my dad than any pub trip ever could have. Not because the streets that he walked are unimportant, but because the way that he walked them is far more so.

I think Marcus is complaining about the England cricket team at this point
Hitchin market square could almost be the south of France…
That's the Victoria pub in the background, where this boozy, curry-y pilgrimage began
That’s the Victoria pub in the background, where this boozy, curry-y pilgrimage began