I had a wonderful weekend last weekend, celebrating my 50th, away with my bestest friends in a magnificent Georgian (?) house in v posh Chichester.
The weather was generally quite shitty, but that was okay, because we could just stay indoors, eat wonderful food, drink (a lot of) marvellous drinks (at around 2am on the Saturday night/Sunday morning a cocktail got created in my name, though I have no idea what went into it (pretty much whatever was left from the previous two nights of drinking, I guess), but it was bloody lovely), playing some great tunes, and just chilling out and getting away from it all for a weekend. It was pretty much perfect.
On the Saturday night, as we all sat around the dinner table, there was cake, and Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday was sung at/for me and then there were presents (which, given my buddies were already paying my share of the cost of accommodation, and refused to let me contribute towards any food or booze which was bought were most unexpected).
Hel said a few words about how important to her I’d been when I moved to London, describing me as the older brother she never had, and I did well to hold back the tears at that point. Regular readers will know that I often refer to her younger brother, Llŷr, as my little brother, so that really hit home.
You always hope that the things you do and say might have a positive effect on your friends and family, and it was really, really lovely to get that affirmation, even more so that she was happy and proud to say it all in front of our friends.
And of course, she mentioned Llŷr, how could she not? “If he were here today, I’m sure he’d be sitting there and affectionately calling you a daft twat” she said.
For my sins, I interrupted. Not exactly a heckle, but….
“No,” I interjected. “He’d have been saying ‘Oh Jeremy…‘”
That’s my proper name, of course, and “Oh Jeremy…” became Llŷr’s catchphrase, whenever I made a bad joke, or a Dad joke, or said something that just went a little bit too far, there it was. Withering but warmhearted.
I know! It’s hard to believe he’d ever have cause to say it, right?
And then the presents were handed to me: a couple of Quo albums on vinyl, which amazingly I didn’t already own, but which allowed me to *ahem* show off my extensive knowledge of all things double denimed and boogie-worthy (one of them was their 1976 Live! album – which I’m listening to as I write this – and (after explaining who he was) I recited Bob Young’s introductory words from said record. I’m so tempted to do it again now, but you will assume I’m just writing down words I’m listening to); £200 worth of credit on Ticketmaster (which prompted the following reaction: “How much??? Oh you daft bastards. You didn’t need to do that, you’ve already spent enough on me! (But thank you).”)
And then a small but sturdy green cardboard box. Inside, a miniature bottle of Jägermeister (a nod to when Hel and I used to do a lot of Jägerbombs, back in the day) and then there, wrapped up in a load of tissue paper, was a shotglass with two words and three dots engraved on it:
How perfect is that? It was like a Derren Brown trick: moments earlier I’d proposed those words as a fitting memory of Llŷr, and then there they were, already engraved into one of my presents.
I dutifully poured the Jägermeister into the shotglass and downed it.
And then it was time for me to speak.
I’d been thinking about this moment for a few days, knew roughly what I wanted to say, decided it wasn’t a formal enough event for me to have cue cards, decided against starting by saying “Unaccustomed as I am…”, and that I would just go for it.
After I’d finished, my mate Gareth who was sitting next to me said “Were you winging that?”
“Kinda…” I said.
“It was incredible” he kindly added, before giving me a massive hug.
Gareth is a journalist (a good, nice one, not one who writes for the horrid red-tops), and has previously said encouraging, approving things about what I write here, so to get further validation from someone who writes words professionally meant a lot.
Were it not for his, and others, kind words, then I wouldn’t do what I’m about to do now.
So indulge me for a few moments folks, for this is, pretty much, how my speech went:
“The idea of doing something to mark my 50th first came about around a year ago as I was laying in a hospital bed. Hel was visiting me, and the topic came up. At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate how unwell I was. I wasn’t really all that bothered about doing anything, but as it dawned on me just how close I had come to not being here – and with other things that have happened since – I came to realise that life’s too short, and reaching a landmark birthday probably needed some kind of celebration.
Also, in February, my old mate Jon Ballard, who sadly couldn’t make it here tonight, practically insisted I did something. So you can blame him if you’ve had a rotten time.
Of course, since I don’t have a single original idea in my head, the idea was completely stolen from when we all went away for Ian’s 40th, so props are due there.
And since I am absolutely rubbish at organising stuff, I handed all responsibility over to you guys. Until about a fortnight ago, I knew nothing about what you’d arranged, and even then, all I found out was where I had to buy a train ticket to.
So before I go any further, thank you for sorting out what has been a truly wonderful weekend. Half the fun has been in not knowing what was going on, so thank you all for keeping it secret before the big reveal. I think we’d all agree, this venue is simply magnificent, way beyond what I had expected.
When I moved to London, just over 11 years ago, it was a big deal for me. Things weren’t exactly going well for me at the time – and didn’t for a good while after – and it was a big wrench to be moving even further away from my beloved Cardiff, where I’d lived for twenty years or so.
I’d met you all before, most of initially you at parties at Hilldrop, or in bars either side of parties at Hilldrop but did I know you all? Not really. But you guys made me feel so welcome, made me feel part of your little gang so effortlessly, so naturally, like I’d known you all forever, and got me through the tough times…it was a big help to me. So thank you, all of you.
Of course, there’s a couple of you – Caroline, Emma – who weren’t on the scene when I moved here. I hope we’ve all managed to welcome you into our group in the same way as everyone welcomed me in.
But as I look around this table, I’m reminded that, were it not for one person, I wouldn’t know a single one of you.
And that person isn’t here tonight.
So I can’t let this moment pass without adding to something Hel just said.
There isn’t an ounce of me that doesn’t wish my best friend Llŷr was here to help me celebrate, and I know you all feel the same way too.
So. I’m assuming you’ve all got a drink? In which case, can I ask that you all raise a glass with me, and toast the man who isn’t here: To absent friends, and to Llŷr.”
More soon. Really soon.