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After a longish period, with not much happening at all, the last week has been a particularly good time for reviews of my 'nostalgedy&#...

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Black Tie Blues




Do you ever go through one of those phases when you seem to be dragging the black tie out of the wardrobe with monotonous regularity?  It seems to have been a bit of a theme lately for me.  At one time I used to issue a plea, to whoever's in charge, not to have to use the tie again, until it dawned on me the only way this would happen would be if they were drawing the curtain around me and playing the sombre music.  I'm not quite ready for that yet.

Not that I suspect anyone is really 'ready for it'.  In fact, if anyone ever dares say, as I'm watching the dying of the light, "well, he's had a good innings", I hereby promise to leap up and beat them to a pulp with my remaining strength.  After all, what is a 'good innings'?  70? 80? 100?  All I know is, whatever I end up with, it won't be enough.

There have been three notable departures in December.  Of these, the one that particularly surprised and saddened me was on New Year's Eve, when a good friend of mine left the building at the tender age of 58.  It was this that really made me stop and think.

Andy had a long and respected career with a local newspaper, rising to Acting Editor.  He was a well-known writer on local sport and music and was an enthusiast for both.  Others can talk about these areas of his life with considerably more authority than me, and have, elsewhere. 

I came to know Andy when we were part of the group that set up the Burton Poetry Society, which evolved into a thing called Valve, back in the early 1970s.  Quite how I came to meet up with Andy, and his best friend, Nick, I really can't remember.  Confusingly, they called each other Jim and Tom respectively, which foxed me for a while.  They were hippies, at a time when being a hippy was still very unusual in Burton.  I admired them hugely for daring to be different, but also for their enthusiasm and for their ability to see the silliness in everyday life.

Valve grew from a letter they penned to the local paper (the same one that Andy would eventually work for), in which they despaired of Burton as a cultural wasteland, and bemoaned the lack of anything for young people to do.  Unusually, they actually proposed to do something about it, and the result was a packed meeting in a back room of The Wyggeston Hotel.  It was a testament to Andy's ability to make things happen, that he managed to get the management of The Wyggy (and later, The Compasses in Wellington Street) to give up a room for the use of aspiring poets, musicians, hippies, failed hippies and students.  I belonged to the last two categories. Neither pub was exactly known for being at the cutting edge of culture, nor could they realistically have hoped to enjoy a huge increase in sales from a bunch that could easily make half a pint last all night…between them.  I would have just given up without trying, but Andy made it a reality.  If he believed in a thing, he failed to see why it shouldn't happen, and I admired that.

Valve grew and developed over time, and the audience waxed and waned, but Andy was always there at the centre of it, brimming with enthusiasm and good humour. We drifted apart, as the forces of earning a living and making your way in life acted upon us, but I always watched his career with interest, particularly as he had achieved his dream of writing for a living.  When my first book was published, Andy was, as always, hugely enthusiastic and his review in the paper was typically generous and encouraging.  When I met him, for what turned out to be the last time, late last year, he was clearly ill, but had lost none of his enthusiasm and interest.  I rather think we need more Andys in this world, not less.

In fond memory of Andy Parker, a good friend, enthusiast, talented writer and all round nice chap.