A post this week inspired by an email I received from someone I have never met…
I am a nostalgic type and becoming ever more so, which I suspect is quite normal and just a factor of age. I have great affection for my childhood, particularly my school days and despite only faring averagely throughout. Only ever on the fringes of the school team and not a single grade A in any public examination.
And yet my memories are fond and why I am firmly on the side of re-opening our schools in September; as much to forge formative memories as acquiring qualifications which too often are of dubious merit. A case in point – on holiday recently en France, it became apparent that not a single Holland boy has even rudimentary French – and yet they secured two grade A’s and a B in their French GCSE.
I went to an all-boys school in London. A comprehensive school; free to attend with an intake that was predominantly Irish Catholics (me included) and a broad mixture of boys beyond. The variety and backgrounds of kids at my school was as broad and as diverse as their future outcomes.
I have forgotten far more fellow pupils than I can remember and it is interesting which kids I can recall and why.
One boy in my year was well known as the clever kid and was universally admired. We sat next to each other for our Ancient History A level class and this was as close as I ever got to him academically. The son of an Irish builder, he went on to Oxford, became a Chartered Accountant and his son has recently finished his schooling at Eton College, one of the world’s most elite schools. From immigrant Irish labourer then to old Etonian in three generations. How about that for successful social progression and the power of education.
Another boy in my class was known for being tough and was equally admired - by me at least. I liked him very much and I still bear the scars of our friendship. His fist crunched in to my face during a game of British Bulldog and chipped my front right tooth (hence, the photo) for which I forgave him, but really what choice did I have? He didn’t go on to Oxford University but instead headed to prison for seven years. A further education in some respects, but unlikely to feature on any of the boards of honour in our school reception.
And then there was Joe in the year below me. An avid Liverpool fan, he had a ticket for the 1989 FA semi-final against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium, a few hundred miles north of London. A game that never took place. Fans who arrived without tickets and police errors caused a crush inside the stadium and 96 fans died, Joe included. He was big and strong and I reasoned that if Joe couldn’t extricate himself from the crush, then no one could. I sat next to his coffin in Ealing Abbey on the eve of his funeral. Such an unnecessary death and I wondered what might have been ahead for young Joe. He was only 21.
And so to this email I received from someone called Annie, the sister of a boy in my year but a boy I didn’t know very well.
He was in the stream below me – but I had some exchanges with him and I decided that I liked him without really knowing why. He was quiet, with a kindly face and had a vulnerability to him which I might have responded to. I didn’t know why, it was just something I discerned.
After our first summer break – 1980 – we all returned to school except for this boy because he had died on holiday in America. We learned that he had suffered with haemophilia and been hit on the head playing softball, although sadly, not soft enough.
The email from Annie was very moving. It was simply stating that it has been 40 years since her brother’s death and that she wanted people who might remember him to do so.
How poignant and kind, that a sister would want this for her late brother.
I receive a lot of correspondence from people and I apologise to anyone still awaiting my reply. In truth I cannot mentor people (the most common request) nor read people’s novels or writing because it would mean I have no time to create anything myself. And also because have you seen any of my films of late? So really, what the hell do I know?
But Annie’s email stopped me and of course I replied.
It made me think and it momentarily burst my woe-is-me bubble that afflicts us all.
This week, in the pouring rain, I played in the inaugural comedians golf day. You'd think that this would be a good laugh - but not for me as my day unfurled. My golf was abject and my spirits were as sodden as my feet.
Feeling disconsolate, I thought of Annie’s email. Here I am, playing golf with a bunch of comedians. Annie’s brother never got a chance to play golf, nor become a comedian, get married, become a dad…
His name was David Leslie. He was a nice young man and I remember him fondly.
Since this blog was published on Patreon I have had an email from one of my close school friends. Sean now lives in Australia. He is married, three boys, engineer... He emailed to add his name to the list of people who remembers David. So Annie, your kind initiative is drawing affection for David from all corners of the globe.
Thank you Annie. What you have done for David is very kind and I hope that this short post might help to honour and remember him.